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DarkSpace Development Blog

This Blog will be updated periodically with regards to the current development status of DarkSpace, and may occasionally just contain the mad, incoherent, views and ramblings of the Staff who work on DarkSpace. IE. is cheesecake or key-lime pie better?...

Author: Drafell

Contributor: BackSlash

Fleet levels and more!

Posted by Drafell Tuesday June 14 2011 at 12:44PM
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BackSlash has started our official Development Blog with an article about some of the features he is currently working on for the game, and where we are aiming to take it in the future.

For quite some time players and the development staff have queried the usefulness of fleets outside of the obvious bringing together of players, the forums, and various communication facilities; and whilst those are all marvellous things, there has always been a deep wanting for more depth for fleeted players.

Now whilst you most likely won't see many of the things I'm going to talk about in this blog in the next patch, I figured it'd be nice to fill you in on something that I've been working on over the past week. Bear in mind that everything is still up in the air as far as design goes, and the level of integration with the game might be slow to start at first – but it's the thought that counts, right?

Read more on the Darkspace Website...

DarkSpace is now fully Free to Play - Developers Viewpoint

Posted by Drafell Sunday March 14 2010 at 5:38AM
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As some of you may have heard, we recently took the decision to make DarkSpace entirely free to play. This means that players are no longer required to subscribe in order to take advantage of the bigger ships, or to use thier earned ranks.

Although this is great news for our players, it leaves us with some serious considerations from a development perspective.

The obvious question is 'How do we aim to support the server running costs?'

As many of you may realise, bandwidth is definitely not free. Money to pay for this has to come from somewhere, which is why we are looking at implementing a system similar to DDO. However, our aims are slightly different, in that we are not looking at making any money for ourselves. It would be nice if we were ever in such a position, but realistically this is never going to happen. So for now, just keeping the game running so that we can continue working on it will be enough.

Our current plans are to offer several donation options:

The first option is for us to continue allowing players to subscribe if they wish to do so. This will be kept at the $9.99 monthly fee, and as a reward they will get a monthly credit allowance which they can use to purchase items in game. This would also be applied retroactively to all subscriptions paid to date. Considering the game has been running for 9 years, we are going to have some very wealthy individuals with plenty of credits to burn.

The second option is for one-off donations of between $4.99 to $39.99. Again, this would be rewarded with an amount of credits that can be used on ingame purchases, and donating over a certain threshold might give you a special badge that can be displayed on your player profile. In theory we could use these badges to allow access to some optional content in the release version, such as playing the game as a monster or pirate. The more you have paid (yes, subscriptions would count towards this also), the better the monsters are that you could access, although you would not be able to gain prestige (our version of experience) when using these. This feature would exist purely as a fun element and as a reward for our members continued support.

 

We also want to make it clear that you would still be able to earn a considerable amount in credits simply through playing the game normally, and that subscribing or donating would certainly not be required to be competetive. Given the heavy PvP focus of DarkSpace, we have to be sure that paying money will not give those players an unfair advantage over those who cannot afford to do so.

 

Anyway, these are just a few thoughts from my perspective with working on the game. I would be very interested in hearing your feedback.

Medusa Engine Source Code Released + Logo Contest!

Posted by Drafell Sunday June 21 2009 at 3:28AM
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Richard Lyle, Palestar Inc. CEO, is happy to announce that the full source code for the Medusa Engine is now available for download. He has been wanting to do this for years, and our hope is that the community can step in and help improve the code and help make new features that we can all share.

Medusa is being licensed under one of three different licenses depending on how you want to use the source code. In a nutshell, If you want to make money off the source code, then you will have to pay a fee. If you just want to make games and release them for free or just for fun, the source code and engine is free of charge.

Medusa is the engine that is used to power DarkSpace, and includes the GameCQ Launcher and client update service, which features integrated chat*. Resourcer, our visual and audio asset management system, is included here as well.

Features:

Medusa is a C++ game engine that has been in development since 1998.

* Scene-Graph Rendering System - Includes Static, Animated and Skeletal Meshes, Solid BSP Tree, Particle Systems, Dynamic Lighting, Sprites, Lens Flares, and Sound nodes.
* Distributed World Simulation - Dynamically distribute the world simulation among any number of machines on the server backend.
* Resourcer - Edit and version control all game assets using one tool
* Cross Platform - All hardware specific systems are accessed using abstract classes.
* Complete Audio Systems - Single shot and streamed sounds, audio compression, audio capture, and interactive digital music.
* Network Systems - Client/Server classes, compressed sockets, and more.
* Factory Based - The entire engine is based on using factories to create classes for serialization and class enumeration.

 

Although yet to be confirmed, there is the potential for successful projects, or those simply wanting to use the GameCQ Launcher itself, to be hosted via the Palestar Inc servers. Please contact liscensing@palestar.com for more information.

In additon, there is now a Logo Design Contest running for the Medusa Engine, with the winning applicant receiving a 3 month DarkSpace subscription.

You can find more information and download links for the Medusa Engine on the Palestar.com website.
 

Phew! That is all of the blurb out of the way...

What does this mean for DarkSpace?

There are a number of features that we have always wanted to add to the Medusa Engine, but due to lack of time we have not been able to. There have always been more pressing concerns that need to be addressed, either with the game itself, or real life. This is one of the big pitfuls with regards to relying on a voluntary Development team.

What we would most like to add to Medusa are bump mapping and shader control as these would have the biggest impact in terms of visual quality for the game. Actually using shaders would allow us to improve the particle system and reduce CPU overhead. So better performance and improved visuals, both very good things.

Although long awaited (Richard was wanting to try and release Medusa back in 2004), I consider this to be great news overall.

Design Proposal - Enhancement Changes

Posted by Drafell Saturday June 20 2009 at 9:53AM
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Part 1 - The Proposal

Current Enhancements leave a lot to be desired in terms of effect and usefulness. A large number of them will have no actual effect in game, due to a few issues that were unforeseen during Development. Those Enhancements that are in the game now need to be reviewed in order to restore the necessary and important balance in the Player vs Player (PvP) aspect of DarkSpace, and above all, to make them all useful.

I have a personal enmity towards useless objects in games. Those items that you may get to start with as freebies, but serve no point beyond your initial progress. This is extremely important in PvP oriented play, where the focus is supposed to be more on player skill, as opposed to item viability.

This is something that also applies to loot drops as well as you usually end up carrying around bags full of essentially useless items until you can sell them to another player, or to a merchant. People want to get back to the fun, IE. killing things, preferably other players, not traipsing back and forth doing rather mundane tasks.

I have always been in favor of the idea that everyone should be able to use everything, if even somewhat ineptly, and gain a useful benefit from it.

How does this apply to DarkSpace and Enhancements?

DarkSpace has several 'tiers' of enhancements. These are:

Tier 1 - Minor Enhancements - Very Common
Tier 2 - Limited Enhancements - Common
Tier 3 - Standard Enhancements - Uncommon
Tier 4 - Enhanced Enhancements (go figure?) - Rare
Tier 5 - Advanced Enhancements - Very Rare
Tier 6 - Prototype Enhancements - Unique - Only one per ship

As it stands, due to various coding limitations, Minor and Limited (Tier 1 and Tier 2) Enhancements are relatively pointless. Everyone has a stack of them, but due to the numbers involved in the back end, most of them don't actually do anything.

A brief(ish) explanation of this...

There are a few basic types of numbers that you can use in programming, C++ in particular. The ones we are interested in DarkSpace are called Integers and Floats. Integers are whole numbers with no decimal places. They are relatively quick to process, but any decimal places involved in the results get automatically dropped during processing. This makes them fast, but somewhat inaccurate.
Floats have decimal places, and are therefore very accurate, but due to this they are far more processor intensive to calculate. In a program where you are processing several thousand calculations a second, this can quickly mount up to a very high overhead, so we have to limit their use where possible.

Most numbers we use in DarkSpace are Integers, except where precision is absolutely required due to the above explanation. This becomes a problem when dealing with small numbers and percentages. Adding 1% (0.01) to 10 as an Integer value, will just return 10, not 10.01 as you might expect. You may wonder why we don't just multiply all the affected values by 100, and avoid the issue we are facing. This would indeed seemingly fix the problem, but due the complexity of the game and the calculation interactions, it would have needed to have been done when DarkSpace first started development as part of the original design. I actually tried to do this shortly after Enhancements were introduced - you really do not want to know what happened in the resulting mess. It was not pretty.

Back to the Proposal...

The only way to really fix this is to use bigger number's on Enhancements themselves, but then this will lead to some very overpowered combination's for the rare Enhancements if they have no inherent penalties or negative attributes.

Do we really want players having +200% damage output on a dreadnought? Short answer: No! Certainly not without some serious drawbacks.

We understand that players want to improve and customize their ships to suit their own particular style, and this is what we want to encourage and facilitate. However, we do not want to give 'veterans' an unfair advantage over new community members due to this, or we at least want to limit any advantage that we do provide so that new players are able to achieve balance parity relatively quickly and easily.

With this is mind, this is what I want to do with Enhancements:

All Enhancements would have a basic "free" improvement modifier. For Minor Enhancements, this would be the only value. You would get a small boost, but nothing else. No negatives, no penalties.
If we say that the default value is a 5% bonus, then this means a ship can have a maximum possible 40% "free" boost to any stat. This could be 40% faster weapons recharge, 40% more damage, 40% more armor or 40% more ammunition, entirely depending on the devices in question.
This may sound quite a lot, and indeed, a fully tricked out Battle Cruiser (as an example), using all Minor Enhancements would have a significant advantage over a stock ship. But then, due to the high drop rate of Minor Enhancements, any player could achieve the same with just an hour or two of destroying AI ships.

Any additional bonus to stats would need to come with a draw back to to help balance it. Instead of being better than the lower tier Enhancements, Tier 2 Enhancements and above would allow more extreme customization of play style, but at a cost that is relevant to the additional bonus.

Lets say we have a Minor Weapon Multiplexer. It adds +5% damage.
A Limited Multiplexer might then add +9% damage, but with a -4% slower recharge rate. This maintains the overall damage output and balance of the weapon.
Standard would therefore be +12% damage, and -7% recharge rate. Following depreciating returns (5(+4),9(+3),12(+2),14(+1),15), this would cap individual Enhancement bonuses to 15% each with a 10% penalty, or 120% total, with an 80% total penalty. As such a Tier 5 Enhancement would be effectively equal to a Tier 1 Enhancement, but allow a greater degree of extreme modification.

Prototype Enhancements would follow a similar principle, but also combine multiple different bonuses and negatives from different areas into one unit. Perhaps +45% damage output to ALL weapons, but with a 40% reduction in armor, or vice versa.

Your thoughts and feedback would be much appreciated.


Part 2 - Further Balance

Even with the above system, there are still concerns with regards to the possibility of one shot kills and 'newbie' farming.
Therefore each type would always have an associated penalty, using a system as follows:
Multiplexer - Additional damage would always be accompanied by reduced range.
Accelerator - Additional range would be countered by slower recharge.
Cooler - Faster recharge would be countered by reduced damage.
Condenser* - Faster recharge rate would be countered by reduced range.

This act's a self limiting system. To increase damage beyond +40% and maintain range would require using a combination of two sets of Enhancements. +120% projectile damage for a Gunboat Destroyer would limit it's actual Particle Cannon range to only 298.8gu, instead of the normal 1494gu range.

To increase damage while retaining near standard range with Tier 5 Enhancements, you would require 5 Advanced Multiplexers and 3 Advanced Accelerators - giving a total of:
+75% damage
-5% range (1419gu, instead of 1494gu))
-30% recharge rate (5 seconds per volley, instead of 3.85 seconds)

Lets compare this to a stock ship, and another vessel using all Minor Multiplexers. for the purposes of this, we will assume the average cannon damage of the stock ship is 100 per volley.

RoF = Rate fo Fire (seconds)

Stock (1494gu range, 3.85 RoF)
100 damage * (60/3.85 RoF) = 1558 damage per minute.
Minor Multiplexers (1494gu range, 3.85 RoF)
140 damage * (60/3.85 RoF) = 2181 damage per minute.
Advanced (all Advanced Multiplexers, 298.8gu range)
220 damage * (60/3.85 RoF) = 3428 damage per minute.
Advanced (combo, 1419 gu range, 5.005 RoF)
175 damage * (60/5 RoF) = 2100 damage per minute.

You will notice that the Minor Multiplexers actually work out slightly better than going all Advanced, DPS wise. This is considered an acceptable compromise.

You should be able to work out the relevant differences for the other Tiers and Enhancement combination's from the above information.

*Condenser - These were originally intended reduce actual energy cost, but due to the whole Integer issue this has to be changed. We do not want to actually remove any items, so they need to be made usable.

Drafell's Video of the Week review

Posted by Drafell Wednesday March 11 2009 at 2:39PM
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Due to the lack of a working television, I spend a lot of time watching random stuff on YouTube, and have a particular love of animation.

I have therefore decided to share my favorite video's each week with all of you MMORPG'ers(if I remember).

So here we go:

The Piano
Very moving and great music. My top video this week.

And some honorable mentions:

The Ratrix
For anyone that happens to be a fan of the Matrix. I laughed so hard when I saw this.

RAM
This one is dedicated to the inner Geek in all of us.

Enjoy!

- Draf

P.S. With regards to DarkSpace development - There should be another update coming soon, so keep your eyes peeled for news :-P

DarkSpace News Update - Free Trial

Posted by Drafell Monday February 23 2009 at 1:34PM
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Palestar wishes to invite everyone to come and participate in the DarkSpace experience for two weeks, gratis. This is in addition to the 14 day game time coupon you will receive upon creating an account, and does not restrict your ability to continue playing in the limited mode after the free time expires.

It's easy - simply go to www.darkspace.net and complete the registration process, then download the latest client from one of our list of download mirrors, and you could be shortly blasting your way through hordes of space pirates, decimating the opposing factions in an attempt to gain universal dominance, helping to stem the invading tide of the dreaded Machine Intelligence, or simply whittling away your days attempting to construct the most awe inspiring orbital defense network known to man-(or alien)-kind.

Of course, the enemy has it's own plans, and will surely be hunting you like a dog throughout.

This offer expires 03/08/2009 at 20:00 CST.

We look forward to seeing you...

- The DarkSpace Development Team

 

DarkSpace Development Blog - Introduction

Posted by Drafell Sunday February 22 2009 at 10:14AM
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Hello Readers,


First, I would like to introduce myself to you all, and explain my role in the DarkSpace community.


Several years ago, I was idly rambling through cyberspace,looking for a new game to play, when I stumbled across an odd title called DarkSpace. Although not your classic MMO, something about it appealed to me, so I downloaded the client and got sucked into losing the next few months of my life.


The initial introduction was bleak. There didn't seem to be a great number of players, and I was a little confused to start with as to what exactly the aim of the game was. I was on the verge of quitting when a clan offered to teach me the ropes and learn the basics on how NOT to die. I realized that a small community did not automatically mean that a game has no future, and I soon became an avid supporter of the game, administering the DarkSpace arm of a clan fleet called the Shattered Star Confederation. Six months later I was asked if I would like to join the DarkSpace Moderation team - a group of player volunteers who help police the community, dealing with player queries and helping to prevent exploitation of the game system.


Naturally I said "Yes," and real life was postponed for another couple of years.


As time passed, I gradually took on more and more responsibility whilst seeing the game evolve through many variations, and just helping out where I could, or where I saw a need for assistance. Note that I have had no training, and no formal education with regards to community management or public relations. This is probably very apparent from my particular style of communication, and I have a tendency to ramble into totally unrelated topics, such as now...


As time passed, I started to get more and more into actual game development. I had an interest in music, and so made a few, somewhat questionable tracks (you have to admire anyone that can actually write and produce music. It is not as easy as it may look, or sound). I also developed an interest into graphics, and through playing a multitude of other games, I got interested in the concepts of game balance and design.


Eventually this coalesced into me and a friend (Jack) submitting a general balance proposal to the owner of the DarkSpace game and head of development, Richard Lyle, and despite having few coding or development skills between us, we were given access to the source code and development environment for the DarkSpace game. I was getting into LUA scripting, and had messed around with creating my own little DarkSpace themed HTML game, and somewhat cheekily stated that I would probably be able to learn C++ in a few weeks. Ignorance is bliss, and a few years on my "C" skills are still questionable, to say the least.


It took a few months for me to get familiar with the tools at hand, and before II was ready to make my first contributions. It was not long after I began my changes that I noticed some odd peculiarities, and uncovered a whole raft of bug's and issues. the most notorious would have to be a drive path issue, which was a legacy  from changing over from an old code administration model, and porting it to SVN. This had gone unnoticed for years before I joined the team and was the route cause of many common issues with the game during that period. Unmodified game assets were not affected by this issue. But given that I had already made close to a thousand edits before I worked out what was wrong, it turned out to be a major headache to fix requiring an inordinate amount of time.


Now, let me explain that DarkSpace is largely dependent on volunteer labour - an MMO is not cheap to run on any scale, and so none of the development team take any wages, which means we have to have real jobs to pay for that bothersome thing called life. Due to this necessity, it took a long time to get anywhere. I had to wait almost two years before I could see the first results of my labour, and it has been a constant learning process since then.


It is only since October 2008 that development for DarkSpace has really begun to kick off again. I have lost count of the number of internal revisions that we have been through since then, and we have had some close calls with serious bugs making it into the live versions, which is a sad by product of a limited testing base. Yet I believe we have prevailed and are creating something that is quite unique, and improving with each passing day.


I admit that DarkSpace is not for everyone. It is a very PvP-centric game, and we have been doing what  games like Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning like to call realm vs realm since 2001 (although in our case it is faction versus faction). I can only say that designing and implementing such game play concepts are not easy. The most difficult thing is imbuing each 'faction' with it's own individual play style and personality whilst maintaining a common set of game mechanics so that players wishing to switch factions will not be at a total loss as to what to do.


Balance is also something that is often underestimated, and made even more difficult in our case as we do not have an artificial skill system and due to our focus on PvP; after all, killing other players is much more fun than farming mindless AI for hours on end. Nothing in DarkSpace is dependent on the roll of a die, except with the recent addition of of Enhancements which are a type of loot drop in DarkSpace. If you shoot at an enemy, you are not guaranteed to hit as your target can simply dodge your weapons fire. Trying to draw a correlation between actual player skill, and whether something is 'overpowered' is not easy. Is a given ship 'overpowered' entirely due to the players using that vessel being unusually skilled, or is it indicative of a real issue with the design?


Despite spreadsheets being able to give general indications, a lot of fine tuning comes down to intuition, and trying to understand what effect giving a 1% damage increase to a certain weapon type will have on the construction (crafting) aspects of the game. It may seem unrelated, but even such 'minor' changes can subtly shift the game balance in a direction you do not wish to go. Will it impact the introduction of the game for new players, and de-emphasize other important aspects?


I have to say that creating game balance is like trying to walk a tight rope with elephants bouncing on each end of your pole, whilst blindfolded.


Anyway, time to wrap up and back to the original point of this post...


My name is Robert Kelford, 29 years old, and otherwise known as Drafell or Mr Black, DarkSpace Community Administrator, DarkSpace Developer, and all number of other pseudo roles, and I approve this message.


*cough*


Over and out.

 P.S. Sad Kitty Story :-(

DarkSpace Development News - Version 1.509E - 2009-02-18

Posted by Drafell Sunday February 22 2009 at 9:05AM
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With the latest update to DarkSpace, there are a few significant tweaks and changes that have been implemented.

The most significant to users in terms of game play will be the reduction in "Resources Lost" on ship destruction. To explain: whenever a ship a player is piloting is destroyed, the value of that ship is added to their game profile as the "Resources Lost" stat, which in turn is deducted from their prestige (experience) calculation as a negative modifier.

Reducing the amount of "Resources Lost" applied to a players profile therefore decreases the prestige penalty whenever you die. Prior to this update, players piloting smaller ships were losing a much higher proportion of their prestige value for each death than was intended, and this was causing a significant barrier for new players in terms of actual prestige gain.

Players piloting Cruiser class ships and above were also losing slightly more prestige per death than we were happy with and in turn this was felt to be discouraging PvP, although we still need to maintain a significant penalty for each death in order to encourage the use of the smaller class vessels for experienced players. So although the same 75% reduction has been applied to these ships, the basic spawn cost of these hull types has also been scaled up as we feel is appropriate. Overall, the death penalty is lower, but only by 10-20% for stations, and scaling to 75% for destroyer class ships and lower.

We have also reworked torpedo damage values, which will bring them back into line with the primary cannon weapons. In terms of average DPS versus static targets, torpedoes now do around 15% more damage compared to primary cannons, although damage per volley is between 2-3x more than primary cannons.

You will also find that weapons on smaller ships should be more efficient than their larger counterparts in terms of real-term damage output, although they still do less damage per individual volley. This makes fleets of smaller ships much more effective than before, as a group of scouts with the equivalent weapon capacity of a dreadnought will actually be able to out damage the dreadnought and avoid most of its weapons fire, although individual ships will not be much of a threat.

As always, we hope these changes help everyone to have more fun.

Enjoy.

- The Development Team

P.S. The full list of changes can be found in the Development Log, as usual.

DarkSpace Development Blog - Friday, 30 January 2009

Posted by Drafell Sunday February 22 2009 at 9:00AM
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Written by Jack
Friday, 30 January 2009 20:59

So, as you might of noticed (or not) we just pushed beta to release, but the heading "synchronization fixes" in the dev log leaves a lot to be desired. But rest assured, we've gone over quite a bit of code and removed some old calls and functions that not only weren't needed anymore, but have been causing some very naughty things to happen in the game. There was also quite a major bug that was causing NULL data to be removed from the client (which shouldn't happen unless required, its not needed), this would cause objects in the game to change order in the client, and bork future updates to that item. This has been fixed.

Along with various synchronization fixes (yay!), we've also tweaked the ELF beam slightly. Unfortunate for K'Luth, but fortunate for the Humans, the ELF Beam has had its "Unloading Weapons" effect removed. This was never hugely intended, but was left in purely 'because'. Since the re-tweak, we've factored in ELF's energy drain potential, and it was causing double the energy loss, and the enemy ship to be disabled for long periods of time if the enemy pilot was skilled enough to abuse it. Rest assured, if ELF feels too weak, we'll tweak it until its sitting as close to being a fine weapon as possible.

Also, pilots who find themselves flying close to Energy Entities will now discover that their energy doesn't instantly drop out. This should ease some of the tension of battle when one of these pesky buggers appears.

That's all for now!

Original article posted on the DarkSpace Community Website

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