IAUS lives!

IAUS lives!

Hello again! I wanted to report an update on the IAUS AI code. It is currently functional for the Builder Bot, with plans to expand it beyond just that entity in the following few weeks.  Ok, what does all of this mean?

The current/older AI code is basically a state machine.  What that means is the system follows an internal hard coded script in all effect.  While this obviously works, it generally makes the AI (and therefore the objects that they control), rather inflexible.  So if you shoot a builderbot, it won’t try to run, it will just sit there and take the damage.  If you blow up the box it is using to hold the Ore, it will just keep going, oblivious to what just happened.

All that changes with IAUS based AI.  That stands for Infinite Axis Utility System, which is an AI based on something called Utility Theory.  In the end, each action is determined by a series of considerations (see screenshot in upper left corner), and those considerations are all multiplied together from curves to get a final weighted score.  Which sounds like a lot of math, but it is quick math, and honestly not as nasty as one might think.  But the AI makes decisions, rather than simply following a script.  It uses the current world state to make those decisions, so if the world changes (such as an ore box being blown up), or an incoming enemy fleet should scare the builderbot off and retreat, then it can react in almost real time.  You can look up more of how this works here: http://intrinsicalgorithm.com/IAonAI/2013/02/both-my-gdc-lectures-on-utility-theory-free-on-gdc-vault/

The other main advantage is the AI is tweakible and buildable outside of the main executable.  Meaning, there is an XML file generated from a tool.  This means that modders can create their own actions or tweak the existing ones if they want to change how ships or the other AIs think and even add new abilities (within reason).  I want to make an “idle” pack of actions so that ships don’t just sit in space waiting for a command but some will fidget in different ways every once in a while, just to keep things more organic.  This will also make the Warmaster AIs FAR less stupid and able to react, as well as give them more abilities.  The possibilities are endless, which is the point, and somewhat simple to implement in comparison.

On a different note, there is about one week left in the Indiegogo campaign.  I intend a surprise at the end of the campaign.  https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/rank-warmaster/x/10182710#/   Thanks for your support!

UI/UX Artist: The Self-Damage Screen Continues

UI/UX Artist: The Self-Damage Screen Continues

Hi everyone. This is your UI/UX Artist Paul with another update on the Self-Damage Screen. 

As the various screens come together I have been reviewing the previous sets and am now working toward a more consisten & ubiquitous design theme. Along this journey new ways of presenting and displaying informations and controls had to be innovated however now with the full suite of subscreens achieving completion, that trial of "what if we did this?" is coming to a close. That being said, the Self-Damage Screen is seeing itself assembled with a formal style guide in mind. There's still some wiggle room, being the last set of screens to be put together.

The first image shown is the Items List Screen. It's almost a second Asset Screen, but for physical components rather than faction economics. Interactive tie-ins with the other screens will be implemented here.

UI/UX Artist: The Self-Damage Screen Continues

The Power Screen allows players to control how their ships internal power supply is distributed to its onboard systems. If you're a Trekkie and ever wanted to say "All power to the engines" in a space combat game, this screen is where you can do just that, via the "Power Snapshots" subwindow, which exists to provide such quick commands. Further refinement and layout of that subwindow will be forthcoming.

UI/UX Artist: The Self-Damage Screen Continues

The Weapon Ticks Screen allows you to refine how your weapons operate. More refinement on this screen will be underway.

UI/UX Artist: The Self-Damage Screen Continues

The Armor Screen is rather self-explanatory. Get an upclose look at how much punishment your ship has taken.

Further updates are forthcoming. I am looking to find places to insert the names of each subscreen, and in screens like Power and Items List where there are a lot of subwindows to display, this is complicated, but nonetheless will be worked out.

Introducing The Corporations of Rank: Warmaster

Hello! Jorden, again, with another dev blog that I'm totally not writing as a means of procrastination because the scenario I was working on ended up being more complicated than expected and now I need time to think. I'm just doing my job, my obligation, which requires me to write a blog post on every other Monday and conveniently that happens to be something I can do other than work on The Crystal Raiders.


I thought I'd talk a little about the setting of Rank: Warmaster and how the player fits into it. Last post I talked about how the economics of Earth in our game are dominated by huge mega-corporations, some of which are more powerful than even a first world government today. Like corporations today, most mega-corps started as a smaller business that focused on a few areas of interest and grew over time to be the titanic forces they are when the game starts. We've mentioned that players take on the role of corporate settlers but what does that mean exactly? Well, when the Centralized Earth Government ran up too many debts to the megas, they tried to just use military force to seize the assets they wanted. This was a bad choice, since most of that military force was designed by those same megas and the resulting war was cataclysmic. In an attempt to gain a secure upper hand the megas took control of Earth's defense satellites, put in place to prevent asteroid impacts and out of a general sense of paranoia, and turned half of them inward so that whenever the network detects a threat and fires the lasers, half of them are actually firing down at the planet. Thus was outside help to Earth prevented and a stalemate ensued. Just before taking control many corporations launched settlers out into the solar system, again from a general sense of paranoia and being smart enough to ask "what if this plan doesn't work out?" You, the player, play as one of these settlers and you've just barely escaped The Isolation. By default you've chosen to settle on Mars, though there's been a lot of discussion about allowing players to choose a different starting planet once there's more content in the game. As a corporate settler you have access to everything you need to start a new empire (and they are empires even if we're calling them corporaitons). Where the different corporations come in is in a series of bonuses and penalties that you will be able to select when designing your own corporation to be a representative of. These bonuses and penalties are, in terms of story, based on what those corporations originally started out doing and represent areas of expertise as well as places where company standards have hindered progress. As of now all of these qualities are applied to ships and not to buildings.

In our story, the varying styles of ship building were developed during the Asteroid Engagements. The Asteroid Engagements are a period shortly before the war when the first faster-than-light drives were still pretty new and there was a rush to get out to the asteroid belt and claim the free-floating resources out there. Although piracy was, of course, still illegal corporations engaged in constant sabotage and conflict to try and gain prime access to resources. Many corporations ran ad campaigns to convince other corporations or the government to make use of their ships for securing resources.

Over the next few blog posts I'm going to be covering some of the pregenerated corporations that I've written up, both the descriptions I've written which are a sort of advertisement for them as well as a little more detail about their place in the world of Rank: Warmaster. When the game is released these corporations will be options for players to pick if they don't want to create their own corporation. Right now there are five corporations but I might add a couple more before I'm done covering them all.

That's all for now, see everyone in two weeks for a look at Sherwood Industries!

UI/UX Artist: Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself...

UI/UX Artist: Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself...

Hi all! This is your UI/UX Artist Paul. For this week I have a new screen that I've started on! Introducing the Self-Damage Screen. This is your ship's personal "medical chart" where you can see all the information, crucial and minute, about your ship's current well-being, from the power draw of all installed equipment to condition of each armor facet. For this theme, I'm exploring a color palette of dark reds and purples to capture the severity of this this screen's nature. This is an all-new screen for me, so the below previews are very much experimental and subject to heavy revision. They nonetheless offer a glimpse at what's to come.

Full story »

Writing On a Group Project vs Writing For Yourself

Hello! Jorden again having to announce myself every time because I didn't put my name as part of my username like some kind of idiot and instead just went with "Circuitman" on the blog site because that's just my standard username. Real forward thinking, that choice. Preamble aside this post is gonna be directed a little more towards other writers who like video games and may be interested in writing for video games. I've been writing for a video game for two whole months now in a job that I got through my friendship with the creator so I am definitely not trying to claim expert status. Instead I'd like to go over what I've learned in those two months and how this process has differed from my normal totally unpaid amateur writing work.

My primary writing up to now has been short stories in the Fantasy and Science Ficiton genres (for the non-writers this is referred to as "speculative fiction") which is a lot of fun and gives me a lot of practice at the basics of story structure as well as helping me to work on keeping my writing more concise. If you haven't yet guessed that I can be long winded at times, that's only because this is just the second blog post and we don't know each other very well yet. When you're just writing short stories that may or may not be published one day there aren't a lot of rules. Actually there's almost no rules, you can do whatever you want and create whatever worlds you want and nobody can tell you otherwise. That's the perfect freedom of working on your own stuff, I imagine most other writers are familiar with it. Now we compare to my work on Rank: Warmaster which is almost nothing like that.

When I joined the project Rank: Warmaster already had a world with many of its rules and concepts already defined by Arthur. This is Arthur's dream since high school and he's had plenty of time (age joke!) to think about how he would like the setting to be. I can't just run wild with whatever idea comes to mind, even if that idea would make a cool story; it would be insulting to Arthur and counterproductive to creating a good game. For many writers of speculative fiction this is a restriction that can be quite unfamiliar and yet I kind of love it. The best way I've found to approach the entire situation is that much of my work is already done for me, I just have to pry the relevant information out of Arthur from time to time. Many of the questions I might have to answer about the setting have already been answered. There are no aliens in the solar system and they've never visited, everything the player encounters is human in origin. The primary method of space travel in the game is a mixture of conventional thrusters like what we have today and some version of the Alcubierre Drive that basically moves space around the ship to get around lightspeed limitations. The politics and economy of Earth are dominated by huge mega-corporations spending billions of dollars on technology innovations all with the goal of gathering more and more wealth. Colonization of the solar system is in very early stages and besides a few test runs that may or may not have been legal the player is among the first humans to set up long term facilities on Mars. That's quite a bit of work that I just don't have to do, allowing me to get down to the meat of what I'm here for faster and easier. Some setting questions did end up getting answered after I started during meetings with Arthur. Earth was always intended to be isolated and unreachable, the people trapped behind the planet's own laser defense grid. I helped to come up with the more exact how and why of that, as well as how it affects the player in the long run (but I don't want to spoil the fun of playing through the game's main campaign for yourself). Arthur hates to micro-manage so I still have the freedom to come up with characters and world events and even to adjust the core setting to suit the narrative I'm trying to build and that's a key aspect to working on a group project like this.

If it seems daunting or restrictive to try and work on someone else's setting then I have good news: I have exactly as much freedom as I have when working on my own projects with a setting I've already established for myself. I'm still required to keep the setting consistent and maintain the rules and elements that have been established, the only difference is that I answer to someone other than myself if I make a mistake. So the takeaway I'm going for here (the first takeaway, anyhow) is that if you love writing and video games and always wanted to merge the two but you're worried that you don't have a good idea for a video game narrative, there is still a way for you to participate in creating games that you would love to play and it's honestly not any harder than working on your own stuff, just a bit different.

The second takeaway is a bit of self reflection I did while coming up with this post today:
I never wrote fanficiton and in fact I kind of looked down on the practice when I was in high school like a total snob and honestly I think it might have been good for me to try. I genuinely can't think of a better way to practice for what I'm doing today than taking the fully fleshed out world and characters someone else created and attempting to write consistent, believeable prose with it. So full respect to the fanfiction writers out there getting tons of really valuable experience in a marketable writing skill.

See you all in two weeks!

Presenting the Quick Designer!

Presenting the Quick Designer!

As has been hinted at before, the Quick Designer for ships is ready for use.  While not 100%, it is now usable.  One of the cornerstones of Rank: Warmaster is the ability to fully customize ships.  While has been able to be done for a while, there were two extremes available:  An extremely granular control of all aspects of the design, or an AI created design based on given tendencies and priorities (The Autobuilder).  The former made designing of a ship very time consuming, but gave the greatest detail control, and the latter (which is used by the AI) let the player only have very generic control.  The player couldn’t even select the weapons they wanted.  The auto-helper tried to bridge the two ways of doing things by letting the player select the weapons they wanted, and the auto-helper would complete out the design.  In practice, this wasn’t enough to make the design easy, especially if a lot of weapons were desired.

Enter the Quick Designer, which is inspired by how other 4X games design ships (if it is that kind of game).  In this interface, it is easy to select what and how many weapons are desired, and see in real-time the effects of adding or removing parts.  Desired thickness of armor can be selected, as well as the shields, rather than total points.  The shipbuilder will be moving in this direction as well.  Also, in play testing, it was found that with ships with multiple weapons, that during battle some but not all of those weapons can be damaged, but that still allowed the player to fight since some weapons were still functional.  The auto-built designs generally had a single reactor, and one of each thruster type, so that a critical hit on any of these systems completely disabled the ship.  If one had multiple smaller thrusters and/or multiple smaller reactors, a single loss wouldn’t cripple a ship.  This hasn’t been practically or easily possible until now.  A player can say they want 3 reactors, and so the ship will have 3, and the power requirements will be spread across all 3, as an example.  This same method will work for the thrust requirements from the thrusters.  This should make a more resilient ship.

The Quick Designer also has defaults based on the Role Selected, so by just hitting defaults, it will auto-populate based on the best of the required parts.  So like the autobuilder, a design can be made with a few easy clicks, or modified before the design is ready.  If a player clicks apply, it will move the design into the more granular set of sub screens for further modification, or a player can simply save the design from within the Quick Builder.  Currently, this window is located on the autobuilder subscreen of the shipbuilder, but the intent is to also have it available and fully functional from the factory screen, so one can quickly make a design without ever entering the shipbuilder interface at all!

I hope everyone can take a look at the IndieGoGo page for our crowd funding that has already started.  https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/rank-warmaster#/

On a separate note, work has already begun on updating the AI in the game to IAUS (Utility Theory based AI).  However, this will take a while to implement, so expect further updates about this in a few weeks.

Gameplay: Tech Web Updates and Future Features


Today I'll be talking about a wide variety of topics ranging from the impact of the new gravity mechanic on ship building, a big weapon rebalance in the tech web, and a number of new features both coming soon and over the horizon. I've been busy at work playtesting and tweaking numbers to improve the feel of the spaceflight combat portion of the game.

The addition of gravity to the game adds more realism to the flight mechanics but also changes how players will want to build their ships. A planet's gravity well requires effective thrusters to counter its pull, which puts a higher premium on better thruster technology as well as incentivizing the use of the engine/thruster slider to give your ship a bit more maneuvering power over raw speed to help maintain its agility during sub-orbital flight. In future playtesting sessions, we'll be looking at possibly boosting the output of all thrusters to help compensate for the increased draw on their power.

Weapons have gone through a large rebalance to help make each of the three basics classes feel more distinct and effective:

  • Lasers and other energy weapons received a large damage boost to make them a better short-range but precision high-damage option.
  • Kinetics and autocannons are still the balanced, middle of the road choice but have had the speed of their projectiles increased to make it easier to land hits towards the end of their range, whereas before the high speed of most ships meant you had to press in too close to ensure accuracy. They also had their ammo reserves doubled by popular demand for longer sorties and to make them more effective at demolishing buildings.
  • Missiles received a boost to both the lifespan and velocity of their projectiles to make them effective long rage killers, but also a significant reduction in damage so one missile isn't a death sentence if it hits. Missiles are now harder to avoid and better fill their role as a long range threat.

Disclaimer: The following features are still in production and may drastically change before making their way into the game.

Coming to Rank: Warmaster in the near future will be a repair/rearm mechanic for fixing combat damage and refilling your ammunition reserves. The mechanic will allow ships to park themselves near a friendly factory which will automatically connect to them with a repair beam and slowly replenish their armor and restore any damaged internal components as well as refilling their ammo. The team is discussing other ways of achieving the same end results, such as arming builder bots with the same functionality or dedicated repair pad buildings, but this first iteration will give players the much needed ability to restore their battle-damaged vessels to full strength.

Also being added is a sensor strenth attribute to the cockpit, which will significantly change the information game. Players will no longer be able to see every building and ship in the game and must fly close enough to be within sensor range of a friendly ship before it displays on your HUD. This will make hiding outposts and conducting lightning raids possible and declutter the HUD when large numbers of distant buildings and ships are present.

One of the big features on the drawing board is the addition of space limitations to ships. Every ship will be limited by the space value of its components that are installed, restricting the size and effectiveness of the vessels they can construct at the beginning of the game to relatively small fighters and freighters. Players will have to research technologies that allow them to increase the space limit, effectively allowing them to install more and bigger components in a larger, stronger hull. This is a huge change to game balance as currently only the cost in refined materials and the time needed to produce a ship matter. With a limit on how much can fit in one ship tradeoffs between offense, defense, agility, and other utilities will be a major consideration in design.

UI/UX Artist: Scouter Reticle & Other Tweaks

UI/UX Artist: Scouter Reticle & Other Tweaks

Hi all. This is your UI/UX Artist Paul here. This week I have a few minor updates to share. The first is a preview of the Scouter Reticle we are adding. The Scouter (seen above as the pair of broken up thin white circles) is a toggleable targeting interface that appears fixed in the center of the pilot's viewport (when flying one's ship directly) that will display metadata about whatever object it passes over. This will allow for instant targeting of whatever ship or building the player is looking at, without having to cycle through the entire list of enemy/friendly ships/buildings, which will get quite cluttered as game progress goes on. Minimalism was key here as its purpose is entirely practical, and it stands in the middle of what is essentially the driver's windshield when it is activated. The above preview is a mockup; the actual in-game implementation will be constructed in shader code to ensure graphical fidelity.

UI/UX Artist: Scouter Reticle & Other Tweaks

Further updated is the Quick Designer. A slide-out side window that will provide additional contextual information is being added. This will appear and recede as needed in a sidebar menu-like fashion. Minor update visually speaking, but important gameplay-wise.

Additional minor updates include adding a "Cancel Orders" button to the RTS screen to call off all ships in one's squadron, as well as further color-code balancing of the Armor Assigner sub-screen.

New Guy on the Team and the Birth of the Tutorial AI

Hi everyone! I'm Jorden, I'm the content writer for Rank: Warmaster. I've been on the team officially since the beginning of August and Arthur mentioned the Dev Blog at our last meeting. I'll be posting every other Monday and talking a bit about what I've been doing for the game and even a bit about writing for a game in general (although I'm quite new to it). A little about me first: I am primarily a fiction writer in the Fantasy and Sci-Fi genres. I've known Arthur for a few years now and when he first asked me to help out with the flight tutorial I'm not certain any of us realized how long term this partnership was gonna end up being.

On to the meat of this post.

The tutorials of Rank: Warmaster were initially a two-man project with Chris writing the dialogue and scenarios of the tutorial (describing what actually happens) while Matt coded all of that into the game so it would, you know, happen. I was brought on to review the dialogue of the tutorial because they both felt that it was generic and lacking something. Matt sent me a document that seemed like it was just copied out of the game code and it looked like this:


#FTUT_INTRO_01 - Display the tutorial's opening message.



#Fade in from the black screen established in FSIMTUTORIALSTART.


#Throw the WM(Normal) on the screen prior to the message that follows.


#Prep and fade in the opening message.

#TEXT2DOBJECT FTUT01_MESSAGE 15.0 50 7.0 1 3 Welcome to the cause. I'm one of the Fleet Commanders around here, and I'm here to show you the ropes. Let's have you steer that bad boy.

TEXT2DOBJECT FTUT01_MESSAGE 15.0 50 7.0 1 3 Welcome to the cause. I'm one of the Fleet Commanders around here, and I'm here to show you the ropes.

FADE2DOBJECT FTUT01_MESSAGE 255 100 255 255 4.0

#Activate the next stage of the flight sim tutorial.


If your eyes glazed over as you read all that, that's ok it's definitely a lot. After working my way through the document I reported back with my assessment: the tutorial dialogue was serviceable as it was but definitely a little dry. I told them I could help but I needed to know what kind of tone they were going for. This prompted a quick meeting with Arthur and by the end I had an idea of what I wanted to do. My personal rule when you're trying to bring something to life goes a little like this: if something is dry and lifeless then create a character to embody it. I considered where the dialogue the player was seeing might be coming from and I came up with an AI character who I would eventually name Ares. We'll talk in detail about Ares's origins in the world of Rank: Warmaster in a future post.

So now I had the character of Ares, an instructional AI whose task was to train the player to remotely pilot space ships. I ended up spending a weekend developing the full tutorial dialogue. The tone I had been given was "dark corporate humor" so I tried to think from that perspective as much as possible. The player is a corporate settler who escaped to Mars after being cut off form Earth so Ares will treat the player as a company asset. Ares itself is, of course, the product of that famous concept "lowest bidder engineering" so I tried to use the dialogue to display all the cut corners in Ares's development. AI development is a topic I personally enjoy so I envisioned what might happen if somebody tried to take short cuts in developing a sapient AI assistant. As a result Ares doesn't really give situations the level of gravity they deserve; its constantly going on small tangents related to nothing and gives the impression that perhaps it really doesn't place any true value on human life except where that life benefits the company.

When I was finished the team reviewed my work and they loved it and brought me on to do more. The flight tutorial is currently implemented in the demo available on Game Jolt and right now I'm working on the "Main Game Tuturial" alongside Chris and Matt. Chris creates scenarios, I write the dialogue the player sees, Matt codes it all in. That's all for this, quite long winded, blog post. I'll see you all again in two weeks where I'll discuss some more of what goes in to writing content for this unique game.

Creating a new ship

Creating a new ship

A few posts ago showed some new ship concepts. What you see here is the beginning process of giving more detail to one of the simple concepts. For this ship I'm keeping in mind lots of areas a player can place attachments to. Defiantly a battleship you will not want to encounter in space.