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.