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Tom Francis

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John Roberts

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John Winder

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Heat Signature’s Fair Points Update: Reacting To Good Reviews

I was too nervous to read Heat Signature reviews for two weeks after launch. I was relieved to see the scores were great, and after 3.5 years of work, that was all I wanted to hear: I didn’t want to know what their caveats were.

Once I calmed down and read them, though, I was delighted: they were not only very positive, but they told entertaining stories and made intelligent points. And almost every critique I read I thought was a fair point. Hence this:

The Fair Points Update

5 new features and 3 new items, in direct response to review critiques, designed to round the game out and make it more fun for more people.

We also added a gun that fires acid money to melt the flesh from your enemies and leave only chemically bleached bone. No-one asked us for that, we just kind of did it, and now here we are.

This post goes into all the design logic, critiques and features – if you’re only interested in what’s been added, the Steam Announcement covers only that.

Fair Point 1: if you can’t manage Hard missions, progression is too slow.

That’s true, and intentional! I made two assumptions here, both wrong:

1. If you do enough Easy and Medium missions, you have good enough kit that Hard ones become doable for players of any skill level.
2. Easy and Medium missions are boring, and you should eventually be forced to do harder ones.

As it turns out, some players struggle to ever do Hard missions even after acquiring a lot of gear, and are dying often enough on the Medium ones that they’re usually playing with a new, under-equipped character.

Separately, I was surprised to hear that these players really like Easy and Medium missions. They’re having fun!

But the fix isn’t as simple as increasing the rate of liberation progress for easy missions. Most players do have a better time when pushed to take harder missions, so harder missions need to reward you more. And the rate of progress should not be faster across the board, or the game becomes too short for those players. What we really want to do is check: are you making progress too slowly? And if so, can we help you out with that in an interesting way?

Feature 1: Liberators

If you haven’t liberated a station in a while, one of your choices on character select will be a Liberator: a randomly generated character with high-level gear, and a personal mission to liberate a particular station. They already have the intel and the kit to go out there and do this, so you can just pick them and head straight out.

If you don’t usually last long enough to find high-level gear, this’ll be a nice chance to try some out – and to keep it after you’re done. Because these characters only appear after you’ve gone a while without liberating a station, they don’t make the game any easier or faster for players who aren’t struggling. They should just ensure that progress is never too slow, whatever your skill level, and that you’re unlocking new things and having new experiences along the way regardless.

Fair Point 2: Stronghold liberations are too hard for some players

Heat Signature’s philosophy is to always give you a huge range of difficulty options for every mission, to cater to all skill levels, all character levels, and player tastes. We didn’t really do that for Strongholds, the 4 climactic missions you have to do to complete the game – they’re just outright hard. Perfect for some players, nigh impossible for others. It wouldn’t quite work to let you choose the difficulty of these – there’d be an incentive to play it safe and make them easier than your real ability level. So instead:

Feature 2: Stronghold Liberators

If and only if you fail a Stronghold mission, you’ll find a Stronghold Liberator in the bar. These are like the other liberators but even better equipped, so they should make Stronghold missions easier. Still not easy, but you can also afford to take more risks and lose them, since it’s not hours and hours of progress on the line. And each time you’re offered one, their kit will be different – so may be better or worse-suited to the job.

Fair Point 3: Permadeath encourages you to choose missions below your skill level, because so much is at stake

Huh! This one completely surprised me because it makes perfect sense and yet I’ve never experienced it. I play Heat Sig with a cavalier attitude, taking on missions I’m not at all sure I can do, assuming I’ll figure it out or at least be able to abort in spectacular style if things go south. But if you’re more risk-averse about your characters and kit, it’s true, the threat of permanently losing them is a factor pushing you to take easier missions, not harder. And for the reasons above, that’s the opposite of what we want to do!

Feature 3: Glitchback Guarantee

Sometimes, one of the harder missions on offer will come with a Glitchback Guarantee. This means your client will teleport you out the moment you get hit, avoiding any permanent damage. So there’s absolutely no risk in taking these missions, you can’t lose anything no matter how badly it goes. It doesn’t make the mission easier, though – if you have to be glitched out, the mission is canceled. So this also serves as a modifier to make some missions trickier: you only get one shot.

Even though we added this feature to cater to players who think the opposite way to me, I’ve ended up really enjoying it myself. I’ll just dive into an Audacious mission with a brand new character and no real hope, and just see how the chaos plays out.

Fair Point 4: I just don’t do missions with shielded or armoured guards

Aha. These two types of kit are special, in that they are nearly impossible to deal with without specialised tools. That’s intentional, for two reasons:

1. It makes those tools especially desirable, creating a progression path and meaningful differences between what different loadouts are good for.
2. Sometimes, having to deal with an enemy you cannot take out gets really interesting, and brings out possibilities you don’t otherwise discover.

Where we screwed up, a little, is that you don’t know how many of these you’ll encounter. So even if you have a 5-use Crashbeam, you might not take a mission with shielded guards because there could be 15 of them. So you play it safe and don’t take it.

Feature 4A: Guard counts

You’re now told how many of each type of guard you’ll encounter on a mission, so you can plan accordingly. You’ll be able to tell: yes, I have enough tools to deal with this many shielded guards. But I’m also hoping you’ll sometimes think “I nearly have enough tools to deal with that many, I bet I can avoid the rest….” A 5-use Crashbeam vs 8 shielded guards is a much more interesting proposition than an unknown number.

We’ve also made the number of bosses on a mission something that can vary separately, to increase variety: so you’ll now see missions that take place on a large ship but with only a handful of armoured bosses, and others where there’s more than one boss per cluster. There are more missions with 3-6 bosses, which is very doable if you have just one tool that deals with their protection type.

Feature 4B: Acid and Crash Traps

We’re also adding two new item types to help you better deal with armour and shields. Acid Traps can be placed to strip the armour of any guard who walks on them, and Crash Traps will crash all of their electronic kit, shields included. You’ll have to use some guile to set them up and lure the target into them, but they both come with a powerful advantage: they’re always self-charging. That means even the common ones are endlessly re-usable, so there’s no upper limit on how many armoured or shielded guards you can deal with – if you can lure them in.

Fair Point 5: I sometimes have trouble making things out

We did a lot of work on clarity before launch, and saw great improvements in feedback – I think we got it to a point where it’s clear enough for the vast majority of people and also looks really nice. So I was gonna say “screw it, we did our best”. But then my friend Zack said two interesting things on the subject:
1. He has the same kind of colour blindness as at least one other person who had this trouble.
2. He wishes there was a mode he could turn on that made everything ultra-clear, regardless of the visual quality cost.

We haven’t heard about a specific colour-based distinction that’s causing trouble (we avoided knowingly relying on colour alone for this reason), but that angle helped me realise this is an accessibility issue. It doesn’t really matter whether the cause is an eye thing or a brain thing, if a percentage of people can’t see what’s going on, we should fix that.

His second point made it easier to see how we could: clarity is only hard if you’re trying to also optimise for visual richness and variety. We successfully did that for most people. For those we left behind, clarity is waaaay more important than prettiness. So if we have a way of making it clearer but less fancy, let’s make that an option!

Feature 5A: Simple Art mode

Under Accessibility Options, there’s now a Simple Art Mode you can enable. It makes all ships use a simpler version of the Foundry ship look, which is already our clearest and plainest. We’ve clarified and plainified it a bit further in this mode: the traversible space is almost entirely blank, and the solid stuff is tweaked to all look identical. Hope this helps!

Feature 5B: Explosive guard annotations

We now annotate explosive guards when they first appear on screen, since some people had trouble spotting those. You can turn this off in the options if you don’t like it.

Fair Point 6: I just hate permadeath

OK, no reviewer said this. But one or two players did, and my mental response was “Well, this game is not for you.” I’m not gonna completely remove permadeath, it would be a totally different game, and one that generates less interesting stories overall.

But maybe that’s not the right question. It’s not: would the game be better without permadeath? It’s: can we help the players who hate it? Is there something we can do for them? And that’s actually an easy answer: sure! We could let them turn it off.

This is a bit mad, so I’m interested to see how it works out. I’m very intentionally moving away from ‘auteur protecting his precious artistic vision’ and towards ‘let’s welcome everyone we can’ – as long as we can do it without affecting players who are alrady having fun.

Feature 6: A Cheat Option to turn off permadeath

We’ve added this under Cheat Options to be clear that it’s not how the game is meant to be played – I don’t want other players to feel like they’re being asked to design how the game should work. This is a cheat. Play without it unless you need it. We warn you about the ways it can make the game less interesting. It’s only there for people who cannot enjoy the game as it stands.

When permadeath is off, anything that would normally permanently kill your character instead resets you to when you were last at a station.

Fair Point 7: As it stands, there’s no way to strip the flesh from my enemies with a corrosive form of currency?

Yes, sorry, that was an oversight.

Feature 7: The Fleshstripper

The Fleshstripper is a new unique weapon that fires the same acid used as currency in the Drift – extracted from those colourful nebulae you’ve been flying through. It belts out a heavy rain of the stuff in an arc, melting through armour and flesh alike, leaving only skeletons behind. Its ammo is your savings: it costs 1 acid to fire.

From the 22nd of Space November to the 6th of Space December, there’s a shipment passing through the drift carrying the Fleshstripper – that’s your sure-fire way to obtain it. Regardless of whether you steal the shipment, it’s also available to all players as a very rare random drop.

A note on Updates

Us: Here’s a significant free update!
You: Great! I can’t believe we get these regularly for free forever!
Us: Oh, geez. This is awkward.

This update is a one-off, we don’t plan to do updates like this on a regular basis. We might add items from time to time, but only buy the game if you want the game as it stands – we don’t make promises about future content.

Nominate us in the Steam Awards!

Heat Signature is all about player choice, so we would never try to influence how or when you choose to vote for us in the Steam Awards, in the ‘Choices Matter’ category for player choice, before the 28th of November, by clicking here. That would have to be your choice.

Either way, if you’ve played enough Heat Signature to know if you recommend it, we’d love for you to leave a quick review! As you can tell from this update, we like reviews.

kripto: There's some good stuff in here, although I'm not sure who these people are who need "hours and hours" to prepare for a stronghold assault - I'm usually packed to the gills with loot after 3-4 runs, 15 minutes tops. I guess I might just not be the audience for these changes.

Now that we got the "making the game a little easier for people who need it" content out of the way, can we look forward to an "extended endgame for maniacs" update in the future? I can certainly think of a few things that could make things all the more terrible for us (guards that can parry melee attacks or dudes with Eraser-style railguns that can shoot through walls, for example).

Jeffool: Hey Tom. First, love the game and am still playing it fairly often, admittedly at a slow pace. Second, so happy to see this post and that you're making some more tweaks! Not only because I look forward to them, but because it's interesting to read a developer who takes seriously his artistic intent but also wants to make his work open to more people. That's pretty great.

Personally, I'm someone who has let armored/shielded enemies discourage me from taking missions at times. I find I rarely (almost never) buy equipment. The exception is the rare case when I remember "oh yeah, I have money" and take the risk of a case. Maybe it's on account of accruing so much quickly, and losing it relatively quickly (to retirement) that I feel like I should be able to handle everything, but I've just gotten bad drops. So that's something I'm trying to be better about.

Finally, I was happily surprised to see the Halloween update, and am equally so to see this post! Personally, I'm definitely open to paying for future expansions if you see fit to go that route. That said, I don't know how popular it would be, or if sales call for it. (I would assume a fraction of owners buy them, unless it's so big as to bring in new purchases.) I can certainly think of things I'd love to see, and I'm sure others can as well. Whatever path you end up taking, I look forward to seeing the work you do.

Not A Cop: "Once I calmed down and read them, though, I was delighted: they were not only very positive, but they told entertaining stories and made intelligent points. And almost every critique I read I thought was a fair point."

You, my good sir, have a giant penis.

I wrote a really long and detailed review on Steam yesterday and then you had to address my criticisms and ruin everything and now I have to update the review and it's all your fault because you're amazing. Stop it.

Also thank you.

Weaselspoon: I'm looking forward to the acid traps. I've found that I quickly get enough gear to deal with shields, but I'm very rarely getting anything that deals with armour. I had a mission recently where I needed to knock out an armoured guard and I couldn't even think what I'd need to do that. Thanks.

Keep up the awesome work.

Extradaemon: If you're not planning for regular updates, any chance for a modkit? That would do wonders for expanding the lifespan of this game.

Curly: Nothing for players who find it gets too easy too quickly? I understand the need to pamper game reviewers, who are terrible at games, but I hoped you'd spare a thought for the rest of us.

Egg Tats: @Curly

The acid and crash traps should help with that, actually, since they can give you a way to deal with harder ships before getting fully kitted out! it usually takes a few runs, or some time floating around in space before I've got anything to deal with armour or shields

Bob: Personally I would like to see more opportunities to rescue old chars.

Also one of my characters wiped out a race but couldn't get off the ship in time and died too. I feel like someone who saved half the galaxy should have gone into the hall of fame even if they died on mission.

Double long swords is too powerful, you can pretty much take out infinite enemies with them.

MaskedDeath: First of all, this is an amazing update. I always hated dealing with permashields - while you can just take an AP weapon against armored guards (for example, a longsword so you don't worry about ammo), permashields might require you to take even a few crashbeams/subverters. This should make it less frustrating.

The acid gun is really fun, even if slightly OP. Still, I love it.

If you are going to make another update, could you consider what people say about actually adding features to make this harder as well? Difficulty caused by having to fight 5 permashielded guards isn't that entertaining, but something else to make missions more difficult while keeping them possible without restricting your loadout too heavily would be nice.

bogondo: thanks for this update, you're good folks. i very much enjoyed the game

Taren: I would like an `Update that makes the game harder for people who want that`, or maybe steam workshop support.

My main issue is that embracing a gameplay style makes the game quite easy. Slipstream+cloaking lets you walk through virtually all ships, stealing keys as you go along. Easier ships are trivial by just holding half a dozen weapons and teleporting new ones to you when all are on cooldown.

Disruption pulse that knocks out all gadgets when a guard is suspicious, guards noticing stuff when getting close to a cloaked player and 0.2 seconds cooldown after weapon swapping could help greatly to give longtime playability. Also maybe daily runs with score board.

mitchell: This is awesome! I love how far this game has come in the last 3 years!

I must admit im one of the few who does not enjoy roguelike mechanics (most of the time, i enjoyed Sundered). So the permadeath takes a lot of enjoyment out of the game. Maybe a more balanced design to think about than a cheat option is making the stash like the borderlands stash. Much smaller and useable across playthroughs.

That means you could only keep 1 or 2 top notch items in there for when you die. And if its only accessable from the station, then you cant take an item on a mission and use it when youre dead. Meaning only all your surplus items will go to your next life. Idk about you but i often have a couple high level gear i have to sell, being able to give it to the next guy would curve that sense of "all is lost, why even bother".

The Blamer: Could you add an option to prevent Liberator and Stronghold Liberator characters from spawning? I feel dishonored by games that reward failure with pity progress, and just seeing them spawn feels like the game is insulting me. Being able to turn this feature off would let me restore that honor.

“This update is a One off”: Learn to read guys!!!

Parachuting Turtle: I freaking love this game and you're awesome for doing this update and everything. I love you.
In the Steam Awards I wanted to nominate this in the "Even better than I expected" category, but I can go for "Choices Matter" if that helps more.

Jason L: https://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2011/11/16

Shaun Cheah: I would like something to do with all my money aside from growing my collection of super-rare self-charging kit. Perhaps I could spend 10,000 battery acid to buy access to a mission which would reward me with a single clone that would give me a second chance in the case of permanent death? And then I'd have to spend another 10,000 to get another one.

Or perhaps I could buy a station for 100,000 battery acid and upgrade the decor a bit with my ridiculous collection? Or what if I could buy a massive spaceship for 1,000,000 battery acid and use it to just whizz around and be a jerk?

Or what if I get a chance to collaborate with a renegade Glitcher to open up a one-way route to an alternate version of the Drift, basically resetting the entire game but allowing me to keep whatever's in my inventory along with a single character. This could be a multipart mission and the ultimate endgame and it could also be very expensive.

At the very least, I'd like the option for a very very expensive cosmetic. Something I'll probably never buy but a progress bar to work towards. Maybe 10,000,000 battery acid inexplicably gets you Conway's hat, somehow.

Oh and also below all this nonsense I'd like to add a genuine suggestion: an option to actually pay off debts with the massive amounts of money gained from "steal x to pay off y's debt" missions. Currently the only way to pay off debts is to walk into retirement with the money needed and roleplay it from there.

Ooh, ooh, one more nonsense suggestion: Someone whose personal mission is to lure a Legend out of retirement for One Last Job. Completing this mission gives you access to the formerly retired character again and a massively difficult mission that should be rewarding enough to double-retire. Or perhaps the lure was more stick than carrot and now the unretired Legend can take revenge against the Lurer for kidnapping her daughter for motivation or something.

RetiredSphinx: Good on you for listening to feedback and making changes accordingly. Too many devs go “but mah artistic vision” and ignore such feedback. The issue I have with permadeath is that no matter how you slice it, it’s lost progress, which equates to wasted time. And I haven’t yet seen a game that deals with this feeling well, so permadeath off seems very reasonable.

Patch Notes – 26/11/17 – Dark Insanities: […] Article […]

Jason L: I would argue with both parts of that. Progress in most permadeath games is progress in player skill and knowledge, which cannot be taken away. In any case the weird hybrid progression system in HeatSig does not remove progress, everything you've done stays done. It removes power on death, creating a period of slowed progress.

The second part, that lost progress equates to wasted time - first, of course, this is videogames. Very few can claim to improve your life outside them; from a crude economic standpoint a game is a tool to convert time to enjoyment - to waste time well. If you enjoyed the time, it was not wasted.

That identity holds over from narrative-driven games which derive from film. Content equals novelty. The best film, cutscene or action setpiece ever written, consumed again soon after, is far inferior to passionless slop the first time. Permadeath does not take away the the time you spent, it puts an ending on it. And it then overwhelmingly creates a new world, new caverns, a new galaxy for different things to happen and different problems to be presented.

My metric for quality time is more and more that memorability certainly isn't sufficient to say I enjoyed time, but it is necessary. Empirically, I fondly remember Homeworld, Command and Conquer and Half-Life. Outside of those two, the games which have forged persistent memories have all been permadeath. By refusing to roll back to a save point or reset to a checkpoint, they allow for things to happen and stay happened. They fill and preserve the time spent in them.

derpy: Can we get a 'hotline miami' mode where guards trip the alarm/shoot with zero delay when they see you?

This game is really great, but also really, really easy.

I have beaten two galaxies, and have never experienced character death. When starting a new character, I really only have to touch the lower difficulty missions in the early game (<10 stations unlocked), and by the middle/end game I'm taking Audacious (with the occassional Mistake) missions for a new character's first ones.

Can you put a legendary/self-charging vendor (maybe wandering through space) with stupidly high (2k+) prices so that it's reasonable for someone who wants to build a single godly character to do so? Apparently (and confusingly to me), people do this.

Parachuting Turtle: @RetiredSphinx: I'm sorry but if you think that "permadeath -> lost progress -> wasted time" then you simply don't see the game. You see a progression system and a thing to "complete". The game isn't about completing it. Just play it and enjoy.

Gunpoint problem?

Don't post them here, I'm a useless idiot! E-mail tech support with as much detail about your system and the problem as possible, and they can actually do something.

Question?

There's a page about the games I've worked on, what I use to make them, and what platforms they're coming to.

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