Heat Signature Development Time-Lapse: 5 Months In 2 Minutes

The reason it’s been a while since I last showed off my space stealth game, Heat Signature, is that I want to use the next video to put out a call for artists and musicians to hire. So it needs to show enough new stuff that the press might cover it, people might share it, and it might get seen by more people.

Don’t apply for either of those jobs yet, though! The other thing I need to do before then is nail down enough of the game’s underlying tech to be sure of precisely what kind of art and music it needs. The way it’s coded right now is rather glitchy, so now I have to investigate whether it’s the fixable kind of glitchy, or the “Fuck this and try a different method entirely” kind of glitchy.

Time lapse

So I’m not going to show much of its current state, but I did put together a time-lapse of everything I’ve done so far: Heat Signature’s five month development in 2 minutes.

The jetpack thing you see early on there felt horrible, made your character feel more like a vehicle. The boarding drill was a technical nightmare I never got working, and would have broken most of the infiltration game design anyway. In general, stuff I cut made the game worse.

Here’s what stuck!

New things since that last video
  • Ships now have individual turrets and thrusters you can hijack or destroy.
  • You can hijack the cockpit to take control of the ship, fly it around, start fights with others.
  • Ships fire heat-seeking missiles, accelerate to outrun them, then cut thrusters to cool down and lose them.
  • Christ, did I not even have modular destruction in that video? Modular destruction! Missiles destroy any module they hit.
  • If blowing up a room on a ship splits the ship, the fragments spin off independently. This caused insane complications with ship IDs and contents that I don’t want to talk about.
  • Sexy hot vapour trails on your ship. Trail thickness and brightness proportional to thrust when it was made, fades smoothly over time.
  • Loot! Find bits that upgrade your ships thrusters and cool rate.
  • Missions! Actually that’s the main thing I want to talk about, so I’ll break out of this list.
Rethinking missions

Previously, the idea for Heat Signature would be that you would start the game with a single target to hunt down and eliminate, however you like. But, as I discussed in a dev log video, the business of actually searching for your target was inherently unfun. I replaced it with a system where you get progressively closer to finding them almost regardless of what you did, which was better, but weird.

Now I’m thinking that you’ll choose a class at the start, then be given a series of shorter missions of that type, forever. Assassins will be assigned to kill specific crewmembers on specific ships. Thieves to steal particular bits of tech from particular ships. Interceptors neutralise hostile ships. Exfiltrators capture and retrieve their targets alive. And you do as many of these missions as you can without dying.

I have the beginnings of that working: randomly generated assassinations and thefts that feel cool to pull off. But I haven’t entirely settled on whether the game will have permadeath or autosaves: I hope permadeath, but certain frustrations need to be solved design-wise before I can do that without causing bad situations.

As you can see, the “Who are you and what are you trying to do?” part of Heat Signature changes a lot, even as the game mechanics stay roughly the same. So these are just my latest thoughts, we’ll see what I settle on by the time I come to make the next proper demonstration video. It’ll be a while though, lots of basic tech stuff to redo first.

6 Replies to “Heat Signature Development Time-Lapse: 5 Months In 2 Minutes”

  1. How did you get the sexy hot vapor trails? Did you have to do some graphics magic or does GameMaker come with something that allows you to do that?

  2. Instead of choosing a class, what if you had a choice of missions whenever you complete one? Each mission could be tagged as “theft” or “assassination”, and I could pick and choose each time. That way, I could roleplay as “guy who murders people for hire”, or “guy who really hates the red faction”, or whatever. More engaging, feels more personal, and also more extensible to additional missions in the future. Plus, if you have an upgrade system which rewards you per mission type, that could encourage weird and interesting builds – I could choose the theft mission to get a stealth upgrade, or the assassination mission to get a cool weapon.

  3. I kinda agree with Daniel that a broader scope of missions will give the player more freedom to play how they want to and take on challenges that they feel like engaging with at that particular time.

    However, I wouldn’t tie the missions to specific unlocks (or even increased chances) because then the player is obligated to do a certain type of mission to obtain them. That kinda defeats the entire point.

    What about a sort of procedurally generated storyline ala Spelunky where you’re given some vague bits of backstory that provide context for one of three possible Main Missions (kill someone, steal something, capture a ship). The MM isn’t even a thing when the player first starts the game but once they’ve chosen and completed two or three missions, they get ‘a clue’ that connects to their past. If the player ignores it and keeps playing Small Missions, then they might stumble across some clues to prompt them again but they are free to never delve any deeper. The clues would be documented so at any point you could get back into the MM.

    Clues would just be fluff text, the important thing is where you found them. Ships have four variables, right? Colour, size, shape and faction? Basically, there would be a specific type of ship that is most likely to contain clues. Any ship which shares at least one variable with that specific ship can carry a clue. So the job of the player becomes narrowing it down through investigation. I found clues on these three ships, what variables do they have in common? They’re all Red ships? Maybe I should look for Red ships. If the SM gave hints about the type of ship that was being searched for (or even out and out told you), then the player can choose missions that will naturally contribute to their MM.

    It might be a bit obtuse, I haven’t played the game so it’s hard to say. It would also require a lot of text since clues would be tailored to a random backstory (that itself would probably be somewhat modular). My main reasoning here though is that it solves the ‘un-fun’ search part of the MM. By allowing the MM to develop through SM, the player is constantly trying new stuff and completing mini-goals. They may or may not contribute to the overall goal but they should still feel like an accomplishment and have some sort of reward.

    A potential problem might be players feeling obligated to take on OO(roleplayed)C missions in order to progress the MM, similar to Daniel’s idea about linking unlocks to type of mission. I don’t think it’s as damaging providing there’s lots of choice for missions at any given time. No mission type is inherently more likely to benefit the MM so, while there might be an issue in the short term (which itself could make roleplaying more interesting), it shouldn’t be a problem that the player was constantly running into.

    No idea if anything I’ve said is any use but I’m excited to see what comes up in the future. Best of luck.

  4. Thanks for the update.

    Yeah, I like the idea of different “classes” of missions, but not of being forced to choose a specific class and having my options limited once I’ve started the game.

    How about putting in the ol space station as a save-point (drinking at the space bar?) and as a place to sign up for jobs.

  5. This is such a lame-ass question, but what was the music in the video?

    other than that I just wanted to say that this looks like great fun, and I am super excited for it.

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