Space Engineers Open Day

Posted by admin on May 25th, 2019 filed in Development, Games, Science Fiction, Space

On Saturday (May 25, 2019) the developers of Space Engineers, Keen Software House, had an open day at their office. It was well organised by nice guys who were very relaxed about answering people’s questions about Medieval Engineers and Space Engineers. (One of them was cheerfully volunteering and answering questions even though he had recently quit to move to another country, now that’s dedication.)

Regarding Space Engineers, what I am looking forward to is the economy DLC that they are working on: They mentioned it will introduce trading, and a scifi equivalent of economy-related quests. That is, we should not expect “questgiver NPCs” walking around, the tasks will be accepted through “machines”. The dev hinted that we will recognise them when we see them, but did not say how and where they appear.

The SE devs also mentioned working on a weapons and countermeasures DLC. They won’t totally revamp fighting –the game’s main focus is still creating/building– it just adds some more options. They promise every attack comes with countermeasures. We are talking hard sci-fi here, like in The Expanse, and not magic force fields and laser pewpew. In the Q&A they emphasised that the weapons DLC will be balanced because everyone gets it for free. A separate paid weapons DLC will only contain cool skins with the same functionality as the free weapons.

(Players are a bit anxious about any DLCs, especially on servers, they don’t want to risk splitting the community into haves and have-nots. Some fans brought up the question because they don’t fully trust the devs to not mess it up, although KSH recently have had a good track record, because they listened to feedback and made sure that all players can interact with the current DLC items. The situation being that on a multiplayer server, someone who owns the DLC can build a ship with a DLC item and give it to another player who does not own the DLC.)

In the Q&A they also explained why they don’t intend to introduce certain commonly requested blocks as small grids, It would encourage players to build very intricate large structures, creating lag. I interpreted it as saying that the distinction between small and large grid was part of their optimisation, hence this unfortunate limitation of artistic freedom. I myself wasn’t too concerned about that question, and don’t remember other details, sorry.

Another common question was why the max speed is so low. They explained that this value depends on the resolution of the Havoc Physics Engine’s collision detection. Faster moving objects (which is possible with mods) will start phasing through walls. That’s because the physics engine takes 30(?) samples per second to run efficiently, and for very fast objects, it often ends up checking collisions too late, that is, once right before and once right after the obstacle, and it concludes there was no obstacle, and phases through — e.g. your missile misses point-blank. (It’s common for physics engines that, yes, if you’d increase the sampling rate, physics would become more precise and faster objects would behave correctly, but complex scenes would slow down and become unplayable. Game devs always need to find the middle ground to keep it playable, which comes at a cost, such as speed or size limits.)

One dev confirmed that, yes, it is possible to set up multiplayer servers with no PCU block limits, as long as you have suitably performant hardware for it. But from personal experience they said it slows the sim speed over time. They chose the limit on the official server to be safer and to maintain a playable environment for everyone.

Also interesting: They said there was a time when they released an update per week to show that they were truly working on the early access product, and it succeeded in keeping players engaged. But developers can’t keep up such a fast pace, so for later larger improvements they switched back to a normal (less stressful) release cycle — which prompted some people to spread rumours/lies the work was abandoned… :-/

(I was curious about this topic because one hears about game developers that they struggle with burn-out due to long stretches of working overtime. Game dev is very time-sensitive because the target group is so fickle and close-fisted; sell your game now, or someone else jumps into that niche. Working overtime in game dev pays off less and is riskier than in, say, mainframe or enterprise software development, where customers eventually pay much more and are dedicated to using the software long-term.)

Oh, and one developer had set up a Vive VR headset with a small Space Engineer demo. Just a closed room with lights and some large grid blocks to explore, including a static robot-like figure “welding” a block in the centre. Walking was done via teleportation, that worked quite intuitively, only sometimes, I had to turn 180 degrees after arriving at the object to which I had teleported.
Apart from picking up some small items I didn’t see any interactions, such as welding or grinding or placing blocks, flying or driving, which is what you do most often in SE. Either I missed it or it was not part of the demo. (It’s very common that the difficult part of VR support is to make the most common interactions user-friendly, the 3D part itself is „easy“ in comparison. I never tried a Vive before, maybe it was first gen, but man I gotta say, I could see each pixel individually, what’s up with that? :-P Must be the screendoor effect that everyone is talking about? We don’t use screendoors here IRL and the metaphor is lost on me.)

Regarding the open day’s second topic, Medieval Engineers:

I’ve never played this game, it’s like Space Engineers but in a pre-technology setting. It seems to have some interesting mechanics, including (literally) mechanics. :-) Meaning there are interactive pulleys and wheeled carts and joints so you can build fortresses, draw bridges, catapults, and mechanical ploughs (yes, there is farming and weaving, too). Just as Space Engineers, it has highly developed destruction physics (in other words, a fortress tower can collapse spectacularly).

The money that Medieval Engineers made them seems to be running out, and the developers assigned to it now also take on work for space engineers (which still makes money). I didn’t really pay attention to this part, but there were fans present who got answers about the ME roadmap.

The only thing I recall was: Medieval Engineers will not get horses. :-) Yes, they agree, horses make sense in a medieval setting. But “adding a horse” means the devs need to add animations and behaviour for all combinations of interactions (one or more horses pulling carts or levers, or horses being pulled by various things, walking/running/riding horses with four legs on uneven surfaces, horses colliding with obstacles and being wounded, or killed or slaughtered…). A lot of work, and how much does it add to gameplay? They feel their horse will be compared to and measured by the AAA-level horses in Red Dead Redemption, and they don’t have enough employees to fight that fight. As the developer put it, only AAA studios can afford to pay employees to study the movement of blades of grass and write a thesis on that. (I jokingly suggested them to become the first to invent mechanical horses and become the best in that domain, but the dev countered that mechanical horses would be historically incorrect. Well. Yeah. But…) ;-D

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