X3AP 3.0 - Reflections on Development
The latest X3AP 3.0 Update is the continuation of a feature of updates for X3TC and X3AP known as 'Community Missions'. Members of the community come together and develop one (or in this case more than one) plotline(s) which are tested by Community volunteer beta testers and finally included into the game with the help of Egosoft. Originally started as the so-called 'AP Community Project', much of the initial brainstorming was done in public forum. As development progressed, more took place in restricted-access forums and chats. To throw some light on such procedures, I asked some of the involved community developers to share with us their impressions of development. - X2-Illuminatus
Ketraar – Team Leader
Hello, I'm Filipe Teixeira aka Ketraar. I was asked to share some thoughts regarding the development that led to Albion Prelude's Update 3.0. Well, it mostly involved magic and some skill, but mostly magic. ;-)
One day, it must have been a Tuesday afternoon - and it was raining, the urge once again overcame me to undertake a great adventure and explore the worlds. Well, since THAT was not possible, mostly 'cause it meant leaving the house, I thought creating something to include in a game patch again would be nice. It's not like it was something new; we had done something like that in the past, and some of you remember the painful puzzle and riddle solving Treasure Hunt mission in TC, as the infamous A New Home or the Operation Loose Ends Plot already in X3AP.
Unlike those, this time around I was inclined to have a more open approach and get the modding Community involved. That's where it all started with a shout to the forum and before long a horde of eager modders replied and things began to roll. As usual, we received more ideas than we can ever handle and I found myself in this new role of being the naysayer. Not the most fun role to be doing; you are like the wicked stepfather that only can say 'No' here, 'No' there, etc... CBJ, I feel your pain mate ;-)
Anyway, having a great bunch of people with excellent skills is half-way towards getting things done; all that was needed was guidance and that was my 'main job'. Ideas began to shape and stories transformed into plots and missions. We always tried to get as much input from the forums and community as possible. I think we did a good job in creating much content that expanded Albion Prelude's gameplay.
Being acquainted with graphics and mapping from previous days, it was my pleasure to design the two new sector layouts, one of which may become your new home base. ;-) They are not the typical X sectors in terms of looks but I wanted to create something that gave you a special feeling when you entered them. In one case I deliberately wanted you to feel uncomfortable but, in any case, I hope you enjoy both sector experiences.
All in all it was a great experience and I thank all of you for helping to make it happen. I learned new things that I could not have dreamed about otherwise. I am pretty sure that more such things will happen in the future, with or without me getting on peoples nerves. I will see you around and I hope we can help keep up the spirit of this great and talented community.
Killjaeden – Modeller
Killjaeden is the creator of the Acinonyx Protoype. True to the motto 'a picture is worth a thousand words' Killjaeden shows us the progressive development of this awesome new ship pictorially.
It all started with a quick sketch to get a general impression. If I want to make a new model, I often draw various rough sketches and then choose the one I like the most.
Next up was the 'block phase' where I make the rough shape. In 2D some things look brilliant but simply won't work in 3D. You can see the protruding rear part of the ship, which just looks odd and bulky. The early concept of the bridge also looked boring. Therefore those aspects had to change.
After each major change I usually render the model from different perspectives and then look at them for a while to see if there are things I like or don't like, and also to get ideas how to proceed and where to put things. While this could also be done in 3D, it is for some reason easier for me to do this using a simple picture. Now was also the time to get the correct sizing. The ship is relatively small, limited by its width. If it were any bigger, it would have collided when docking in hangars (Experience of Hyperion and Springblossom anyone?)
I immediately started to change the cockpit because it influences the look of a small ship a great deal - just like the head of a human or creature. With the basic shape done, it's time to add detail to the model. The ship is supposed to be fast and well armed so I started to work on the more defining features - the turbines or generators on the back and the large rotary guns.
I applied some textures, mainly to balance the light-textures. Light-textures can add more definition and eye-candy to your model but, if you add too much, it will be counter-productive and look like a Christmas tree. At that time Ketraar asked me to create some shots that could be used as teasers in a news-post.
When I started to work on the part below the cockpit, I noticed how awkward the transition was and that it generally looked wrong. It took a while to figure out a good way to connect it in a visually-appealing way, but I got there eventually.
Adding more detail once again... Contrary to my standard practice, I applied textures to parts that will be lighted immediately to make sure that I didn't end up with too many light-textures. On the other hand, Split textures are pretty dark, so I aimed for a good coverage.
You don't want to have very detailed surface in one area and a completely blank surface in another, so having a good balance, as with the light textures, is important. Once I had good coverage with detail, I started texturing. Starting texturing before finishing all detail might need you to re-texture large parts of your model. That's not very efficient.
Finished model. If you noticed, there was a larger engine-exhaust panel in the wings in the previous screens. I removed it at the last minute because it looked strange and I wasn't satisfied with it. Besides, the ship already had plenty of exhausts. Now the only thing needed was to export it into the game.
There you have it. A nice speedy corvette for you to fly or get shot to pieces.
eldyranX3 – Mission Director Developer
I think much of my experience with X3AP 3.0 development parallels that of Jens Ka concerning X3TC 2.6 and the development of the A New Home Plot
. It took a while to settle upon the various design targets, some of which we ran out of time to implement fully or even at all. Credit for the outline of Shady Business, along with its branching paths and ambiguous moral choices, went to our primary plot writer Scion Drakkar. The idea for the Beryll / Jonferco split came from jack775544, so giving us not two but three factions to ally with, each having their own unique benefits and conflicting agendas. Unbekanntes Feindschiff wrote an exceptional End of War outline. We originally wanted it to have its own dedicated stand-alone plot but, unfortunately, that ran out of time.
Once the development team settled upon the plots to be included in 3.0, dillpickle and I started breaking ground for the two largest plots. As with Jens Ka, I spent 10-12 hours a day scripting furiously and finding new ways to wreak havoc between MD and KC. We wanted to get 3.0 ready for the Steam 2012 Winter sale but natural disasters, storage drive failures and the usual slew of unforeseen bugs delayed release.
Although it took longer than expected, I think X3AP 3.0 brought something new to the X-Universe. Scion and I wanted to present players with choices and the consequences of those choices, two areas we felt hadn't been sufficiently emphasised in previous X plots. Those who played the Mass Effect series can appreciate how difficult it can be to transcribe an open-ended narrative into an interactive video game scenario.
jack775544 – Scripter
The way that I found out about Shady Business was a post that Ketraar put on the scripting and modding forums for a new X3 Community Project. Even though at first I didn't have time to commit, I found myself getting more and more interested by discussing with people on the forums about it. Eventually I signed up properly at this point. A whole heap of people were at this point already discussing the possible plotlines that could be done for this point, but a lot of it involved something about corporations, a female Split and a new ship that could match the excellent Hyperion. We knew that most people would love to have a plot where you could make some meaningful decisions, and when we got the go ahead from Egosoft to end the war, we knew we could weave it into the plot we were already making. We also decided that a story where you could choose your allies and methods for doing things would also be great, and that eventually evolved into giving you the option to choose to collaborate with either the Beryll, Jonferco or Strong Arms. Adding in a superfast Split M6 as a reward was the icing on the cake.
Later on we knew that we would need to have some sort of hacking mini-game, so while DrBullwinkle developed the decryption and password finder mini-game, I made the cipher puzzle. After fixing some bugs and making the menus look pretty, the mini-games were good to go. Personally, I love numbers games, so the cipher puzzle was a great opportunity to make one.
Looking back on the project now, the things that I love the most about Shady Business are the hacking games (no bias, I swear ;) ) and the fact that you can end the war and send the galaxy into relative peace, for now anyway...