Friendly suggestions for Next Egosoft era

General discussions about the games by Egosoft including X-BTF, XT, X², X³: Reunion, X³: Terran Conflict and X³: Albion Prelude.

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amacdonald
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Post by amacdonald » Sat, 8. Aug 09, 10:12

I don't get the criticism of the engine and its' stability. In all my many, many hours playing TC I have not had a single technical issue. Yes the frame rate drops occasionally but that's because of the sheer scale of the stuff that's going on nearby. I wouldn't want an emptier game or a less dynamic universe for the sake of frame rates.

I've never had a CTD from the game. That tells me the game engine is stable. If other people with the same engine are meeting instability, the instability must be coming from something outside the engine, like drivers, hardware problems or overclocking.

I would like to see the engine multithreaded, even if it's just having separate threads for rendering and AI. That shouldn't be too hard to accommodate if a major rewrite is in progress as the two functions are conceptually separate and parallel. The AI decides where all visible objects are and which direction they are pointing and the rendering engine renders them.

My concern is more to do with timescale. It's taken 10 years for the X Universe to evolve to its' current level of detail. How long would a new universe take to develop to the same immersive level?

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Post by Gavrushka » Sat, 8. Aug 09, 10:25

@amacdonald - There really has rarely been a stabler game platform - But I am sure we can all undersand people who have problems with Codecs and the like will automatically point an accussing finger at the game itself.

There was an interesting discussion about optimising code for mutli-threading from some figure from Egosoft with maybe a smidgin more technical knowledge than us and he had responded to a suggestion of Multi-core support (which is obviously a full game engine rewrite) and mentioned that by the game assigning porcessor use rather than the CPU what could possibly happen is that the effect could be negative due to bottlenecking - I'm not in any technical position to add weight to these words but perhaps the nature of the game does mean the processor is in a better position to optimally decide prioritisisation rather than the game

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Post by amacdonald » Sat, 8. Aug 09, 13:27

I'm a programmer (though not a game programmer) so I have a reasonable grasp of threading and the issues it can cause. Poorly implemented multiple threads can cause performance problems if a high performance thread has to wait for a low performance thread to catch up. I suspect the trick would be to decouple the IS and OOS AI threads from the rendering engine. The IS AI could calculate object positions and interactions as fast as possible, storing the relevant data in shared memory. The rendering thread can use the data in shared memory to render things on-screen just as fast as it can. If there are too many objects to render in a certain time frame, the frame rate will drop but the AI thread (hopefully running on a different CPU) won't lag with it. Two processors could do twice the work, leading to more realistic AI and higher frame rates.

Yes I'm simplifying things drastically and I could never hope to write a game engine but I can't see a great insurmountable technical burden for a talented team with enough time. If you simply create the threads, Windows will assign them to the processor with the lowest load at that time, just as it does with multiple applications. If you have a single processor, everything goes on that but multithreading still works, just not as well.

Various iterations of Quake have been multithreaded in roughly that fashion for many years now. Given that virtually no other games are, it would give considerable bragging rights to Egosoft too ;-)

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Post by Alfred Bester » Sat, 8. Aug 09, 16:42

I think Egosoft is more than capable of deciding which optimisations (such as threading) to employ. Lets focus more on actual gameplay.

Here are a few points I have noticed

a) Planets and other galactic paraphernalia just hang there doing nothing. I'm all for scenery, but this has always been a huge missed oppertunity IMO. The entire space aspect of the X-series is flawed. There is no gravity. There are no star systems. Astroids do not float about planets. In fact, most planets don't have orbiting astroids. Same goes for the space stations. They ought to be in real orbit around the planet.

b) To make matters even more unrealistic, there is a fixed speed for objects. This is rediculous, so long you apply thrust, your speed keeps increasing (until you reach the speed of light, of course). Engines keep active while your speed remains constant. What is causing this drag? Naturally a huge spaceship is accelerating or decelerating most of the time.

c) And seriously, whats up with the units?? In space nothing ever moves with speeds as low as 200km/h. At those speeds, you'd crash into the planet in a matter of hours. In stellar systems, everything moves with speeds of several km/second at the very least.
Likewise, why are space stations so rediculously close?

In short, the X-series does not deserve the credit for being a space sim. At best, you could argue its some odd earthly RTS masquarading as a spacesim by throwing in some nebula and planets in the background.

Now, a game placed in a physically realistic space setting would be truly awe inspiring. You'd have to take into account the curved orbits around planets, gravitational slingshots, and all the subtleties of doing combat in such an environment.
And you don't have to worry about long travel times either, so long as you can reach the speed of light, the subjective time could be reduced arbitrarily, while the time "outside" would go on normally (like a real speed-dependant SETA factor). This would also add a big bonus to novelty and realism, not to mention good 'ole fun!
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Post by amacdonald » Sat, 8. Aug 09, 18:20

Maybe I'm the odd one out here but a real physics model would suck all the fun out for me. Can you imagine trying to dogfight with a closing speed of 200km/sec?

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Post by Poobah » Sat, 8. Aug 09, 18:33

It's a game. If we were all moving at a viable fraction of light speed then we'd need to use autopilots to do everything and combat would be a no go.

Looking into any of the really 'hard' sci-fi will show that. If you want to make an entertaining game for people to play you need to go for what amounts to 'fantasy' set in space, or space-opera or whatever. When people envision space they think of Star Wars, and what amounts to Jet-Fighters with a different backdrop, not any actual science.
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Post by ytheleus » Sat, 8. Aug 09, 18:35

No need to imagine, IWar 2 implements this nicely. Thrusters allow you to turn the ship to face your target during a pass (orientation is reasonably independent of trajectory), and turrets are useful. It's a completely different combat mechanic, but it does work. It's fun, in fact.

It wouldn't work very well in current X3 sectors, where stations are too close together to avoid at high speeds. You need wide open spaces for large turning circles and multiple passes. Wide open spaces with ships that are all capable of very high speeds (acceleration and deceleration dependent on thrust/mass) are arguably something that X3 would benefit from. It would also be a very radical move, so I don't expect to see it.
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Alfred Bester
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Post by Alfred Bester » Sat, 8. Aug 09, 18:57

Well, of course making a realistic spacesim would turn out to be very weird, because the circumstances of the environment are so much different than that which we are used to here on earth.

It would take combat and strategy to a whole new and different level, akin to the change from planar combat in 18th century to 3D modern-day jet dogfights.

Of course, the mechanics of movement are much richer and more complex (and ultimately more realistic). An autopilot would be called for in some circumstances. But what of that? We use those in X all the time. And if you feel up to it, you can always take the helm.

Thats not to say it won't be any fun. I'm certain that with a proper degree of fantasy and artistic license a great and fun game can be had. Its like ytheleus says, you could do amazing manouvers that wouldn't otherwise be possible.

You obviously can't change your direction so easily when you go 200km/sec. Yet you can flip your viewpoint in a second in a smallish fighter craft. This would give a whole new perspective on a "drive-by" strategy.

Shooting missles is no problem, it will inherit your own speed. Near planetary bodies most things will go at orbital speeds of several km/s, no problem for any missle. At those speeds you could even reverse course nicely. Of course, most missles have some sort of autoguidance to ease things a bit, but you'd still be responsible for the ultimate planning of that one killer shot.

In deep space where speeds go much higher, you'd have to be more careful and plan things out properly. Beam weapons go near instantaneous of course, but you'd have to factor in time delay of light travel for anything further away than 300.000km (distance to the moon).

You can use planetary bodies for shielding, and you could also trick enemy forces to fight you near a planet, which would be like fighting on the beach with your back to the sea.

In deep space away from gravity fighting would still more or less resemble the way it feels in X.

One-on-one, fleet vs. fleet, its all possible in a mindboggling new set of configurations. Use your imagination! Take cover in asteroid belts! Hide behind the dark side of a planet! Force the enemy into a badly manouverable gravity well! Use a gravassist slingshot to quickly outrun a foe! Use speed and tactics for one blinding hit & run assault!

Whats wrong with a bit of realism? I think we all agree there shouldn't be too much of that. Yet surely there ought to be some intellectually satisfying minimum? Would you accept a flight simulator were all the airports where 500m apart, the aircraft would stay in the sky unpowered, and would go no faster than 5km/h ?

Needless to say, X would have to be totally redesigned, which isn't such a bad thing. You have to admit, after 4 iterations the entire thing is beginning to feel a bit stale. You can call X what you want, but a space-sim it ain't!
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Post by someone else » Mon, 10. Aug 09, 11:18

when I was saying "leave complete moddability" I thought of releasing the game as they can do it (time and money limits, as always).
In that way, the things they "leave out" (if they leave out something), can be easily fixed/improved by modders/scriptes/whatever.
Then, if the devs like the "modification" because it does what they wanted to do but couldn't due to money/time limitations they can include it in a patch (if the modder allows it). Gazz's Turret Fix mod was included in 1.4 for example.
This way the things get fixed but not by them, so less money is spent, less time is wasted, and the community feels really "part" of the game.

imho it is not that hard... for the bonus pack there is a lot more testing than for a bug-fix mod. :D
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Post by Nanook » Mon, 10. Aug 09, 21:15

Alfred Bester wrote:....Here are a few points I have noticed

a) Planets and other galactic paraphernalia just hang there doing nothing. I'm all for scenery, but this has always been a huge missed oppertunity IMO. The entire space aspect of the X-series is flawed. There is no gravity. There are no star systems. Astroids do not float about planets. In fact, most planets don't have orbiting astroids. Same goes for the space stations. They ought to be in real orbit around the planet.
And this is where your whole argument is flawed. In fact, the gate systems ARE in orbit. Sometimes they're in close orbit, sometimes not so close. See that planet twirling below you? That's what the gate system is orbiting. :P

And that leads into the whole 'speed' thing you mentioned. In fact, ships in the same relative orbit, and in close proximity to each other and the local stations, wouldn't travel very fast relative to each other, now would they?

You're just not thinking of the whole X-Universe in the correct context. You do fly between star systems, but you use a jumpgate instead of a warp drive. Presumably, the 'old ones' who built the gate network made it this way to allow the various species to expand between systems, while controlling which systems. By having gates like this with ready access to many systems, the races would have no need to develop other, faster means of travel, since they had plenty of expansion room as it was. Seems 'logical' to me. :wink:
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Post by Poseidon » Mon, 10. Aug 09, 21:25

Why is everyone so fixated on realism? Desert Bus, anyone? Nobody ever really wants realism. What they want is something intuitive, that makes sense. Space isn't intuitive. Space isn't fun. You think travel times are bad now?

If we want to suggest a different model for the game world, then do that. Trying to use realism as a crutch for strengthening the argument doesn't really work. Reality doesn't sell, unless it's 'Reality TV'. Entertaining, interesting fictions sell, and are enjoyable to experience to boot.

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Post by MegaJohnny » Mon, 10. Aug 09, 22:30

Here's a checklist of small things to make the next game more believable and flashy.

- louder gunshots and more different gunshot sounds, so that big guns can sound like big guns and not exactly like the poncy little fighter guns you were using 10 game-days ago.
- when marines latch onto the ship they shouldn't disappear randomly, that's weird. They should have a flag set so that if they collide with the target ship, instead of blowing up they should attach to the ship and move along with it. They should move faster so that they can catch up, maybe have a jetpack or something.
- When the shields are up there should be a sphere (or squashed sphere) that should collide with the bullets rather than the ship hull. I don't like how shooting an energy field looks exactly the same as shooting a metal surface.
- This most likely won't happen. But I'd like a Freelancer-style system model rather than the one we have now which feels rather boxed in. Ideally it'd be something like Vega Strike or Evochron Renegades (vegastrike by the way simulates 3 systems realtime so don't say it's technically unfeasible to have this model) (and the whole IS-OOS system the X-series had is good, it should carry over into new games all the same).

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Post by Chris0132 » Mon, 10. Aug 09, 22:33

I think in general X has a pretty good system going, you pick a ship, you fly around blowing enemies up, or trading, and there is a lot of exploration involved until you memorise the universe, basically there's a lot to do in the X universe, more than I think I've seen in many other games. However it suffers a bit on implementation.

It needs a better interface, it needs mouse control wherever possible on sector maps, it would benefit from a proper 3d sector-wide control system akin to the homeworld 2 RTS control, being able to order ships around on a full 3d plane with large scale control would be a great benefit, and could be used for building as well. More things need to be hotkeyable such as ship command sequences, but we need fewer hotkeys to memorise, so we need more things brought under one command, for example selecting a ship in the 3d command mode and right clicking a friendly ship would make them follow it AND protect it from enemies, because why would you want to follow something without protecting it. Ships should be given engagement rules like RTS units, with toggles between 'engage aggressively, chase enemies down' and 'chase enemies a bit to get them away but don't deviate from the flightplan too much' and 'ignore all attacks and keep going'. That sort of thing.

On the note of building, we need to be able to build complexes more easily, personally I'd have them be node based, you place a building in the 3d command view and select one of its nodes, then you can select another building to add onto that node, which would allow more nodes to be placed, a 3d snap-to placement grid to prevent collisions would be helpful as well. Placing stations should not involve selecting a station each time, or going through all the menus each time, going through all the menus in fact is something of a recurring issue in the interface.

Freighter commands could use an overhaul as well, for example we need something like the routing system in anno 1404, you set places to go and then you set things to do when there, so for example you might set your weed plex in nopileos memorial, your energy plex in akeelas beacon, and your HQ in avarice, the ship would then circle between the three locations in that order, but you then can tell it to do things at each place, for example 'nopileos memorial: pick up: 400: weed: drop off: 5000: ecells:' 'Akeelas beacon: pick up: 8000: ecells:' 'avarice: drop off: 2000: ecells: drop off: 200: weed:' and so on, you give specific pick up/drop off orders on a comprehensive screen which clearly shows the standing orders of the ship.

These are fairly specific examples, but it shows the general direction I'd like it to go, more customisability, more automation, but more control as well, and less actual effort involved in giving the orders, and much easier access to the information you need.

With combat, I'd say more interesting inter-ship matchups, like bombers for example, I like the idea of a small ship which can damage a big ship if piloted carefully, so what about giving big ships weak points which can be shot at by overgunned but specialised ships? What if bombers didn't fire using the command menu, what if they mounted rocket pods which fired like lasers but used mouse1 to fire? You do strafing runs on enemy ships with them, sort of like a cross between a missile frigate and an ammo based laser.

Similarly, the ability to have special powerful weapons which are hard to use, capital ships could have main guns, which fire at huge ranges for large amounts of damage but which usually need ammo, or drain loads of energy and have a long cooldown, corvettes could mount special anti-capital weapons in ones and twos in their main batteries but they have some limitation which prevents them from being used against other smaller ships, like maybe they can't be autoaimed or fired off-centre like the existing guns can be. You could mount these on OWPs as well to make them a real danger.

Basically I'd like it if big ships weren't just turret clusters which shoot millions of small weapons at things, or if small ships weren't always limited in their firepower against big ships. Taking on xenon Qs in a katana is fun, but very very time consuming and repetitive, make expensive upgrades for smaller ships to let them take on bigger ships in line with the extra expense. The expensive things should not simply be the big slow things which are not as interesting to fly as the small fast things, if cost = power then why can't things be small and powerful if they're expensive? Things like the springblossom and the spitfyre should be available from all races but be very expensive to compensate.

You can also have new ship types, like boarding ships which latch onto the hull and deploy marines, or ships which latch on and drain power from the engines and weapons, or corvettes which have no main guns but more turrets, or more mains but no turrets, that sort of thing. Miniature missile boats which have turreted missile launchers for anti-missile screens or small scale missile deployment. You could also add in a real customisation system for your ships, being able to boost the number of shield slots, engine power, weapon compatabiility, turret configuration, all sorts of things, really make your ship your own you know? More things to do and try and play with.

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Post by Poobah » Mon, 10. Aug 09, 23:08

MegaJohnny wrote: - louder gunshots and more different gunshot sounds, so that big guns can sound like big guns and not exactly like the poncy little fighter guns you were using 10 game-days ago.
- When the shields are up there should be a sphere (or squashed sphere) that should collide with the bullets rather than the ship hull. I don't like how shooting an energy field looks exactly the same as shooting a metal surface.
- This most likely won't happen. But I'd like a Freelancer-style system model rather than the one we have now which feels rather boxed in. Ideally it'd be something like Vega Strike or Evochron Renegades (vegastrike by the way simulates 3 systems realtime so don't say it's technically unfeasible to have this model) (and the whole IS-OOS system the X-series had is good, it should carry over into new games all the same).
#1: Some guns are too loud. I'm personally not a fan of excessively eardrum destroying sound effects and prefer more understated to overstated. In space, noone can hear you scream anyway :P

#2: I don't really like this. Not saying this just to be argumentative, but to show that there isn't a uniform desire for this.

#3: I don't understand what you're saying here, what do you mean? Could you offer some explanation please? I'd be interested to see what this means.

Chris : I don't have time to address all your points, but I'd definitely be against super-powerful stuff in any x-game. What's the point in having something big and powerful if there's something half the size and equally as powerful? If every race had a spitfyre/springblossom then all their other ships would become obsolete, especially because of the ease with which money can be made in X3:TC. Besides, if everyone got superships then they would cease to be superships and people would start crying out for even more overpowered ships...
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Post by MegaJohnny » Mon, 10. Aug 09, 23:32

Whenever I open my mouth I have to reword what I'm saying because I always put it confusingly. Oh well.

I'm not too bothered what should happen graphically when you shoot a shield, but I just think the hull should flash cyan for a moment or something. As long as it's different, and doesn't look exactly the same as if you were hitting the hull.

As for the system model, games like Vega Strike and Evochron Renegades are much more seamless than X when it comes to travelling around. In Vega Strike, if you see a planet on the other side of the system you want to get to, you target it, press the SPEC-drive hotkey and you accelerate to a multiple of the speed of light. Not disturbing the gameplay for a milisecond, you arrive 90 light-seconds closer to the planet. You could have left your PC on for a month (or however long) and flown there the old-fashioned way if you wanted.

The same is true for Evochron Renegades, you can fly everywhere using normal engines. But you will obviously want to use your jump drive, which teleports you to the destination coordinates instantly. If you travel to a new star system the wait is at most half a second to load in all the new stuff before you emerge.

I wish the next game (most likely another space free roaming type thing) would use this sort of very open universe model, or at least use Freelancer's. Freelancer had a good universe model, the only loading screen or noticeable seam in the game is travelling between systems using the jumpgates. It's proof you can put that in a retail game and be successful with it.

The funny thing is, Vega Strike is a free (possibly open source, I forgot) game and Evochron Renegades was programmed by one guy in Dark Basic. They're both so much more interesting in the technologies they use, I don't see why retail games never have them.

Maybe they don't want to risk spending time on money on something that won't guarantee more sales.

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