Procedural Tech Trees: Limit Theory Dev Diary

You have to see this moving. It's incredible.
To recap: Josh Parnell’s lovely looking Limit Theory is a space game in the style of Elite: trade, shoot, live, SPACE! He releases a monthly dev diary charting his progress, and each video has thrilled me. This, the tenth in the series, is probably the most exciting one yet. To put that in context: previous videos have shown how the game will procedurally generate the universe in a Dwarf Fortress story-building fashion, and a morning’s worth of work that generated planet surfaces. This video talks about the tech tree and the modding UI, and you just have to watch it. He’s procedurally generated tech-trees, and the modding interface is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.

Researching the tech tree is as much about exploration as it is about tech: the nodes on the tree branch off as you keep digging down into their effects, enabling you to create incredibly specialised equipment. The game will keep building on the nodes procedurally. As long as you have the research capabilities, you’ll be able to keep adding to the tech tree.

Then he drops the modding interface bombshell: Limit Theory was initially not supposed to be moddable, but Josh has worked on a visual UI that’ll allow players to expose the live data and modify it. Everything is represented in organic menus that swirl around like electronic ferns. The shape of the data should help players determine what bit of data they’re looking at, and as you click on each node you’ll drop deeper and deeper into the game’s code. It’s incredible.


  1. Llewyn says:

    Everything I read about this game serves to make me feel bad about not backing it.

    • Geebs says:

      Don’t sweat not backing it, I think Josh is putting in everything from the stretch goals for the hell of it anyway.

      Edit: blimey, I’d forgotten I’d actually backed at the beta level for this one, so should hopefully be getting my hands on something sooner rather than later :-)

      • Llewyn says:

        See, you were doing so well with the first paragraph, but then you went and made it all even worse with the second!

    • Wodge says:

      Everything I see about the game makes me glad I backed it over Elite.

      • dreamscape says:

        Elite: Dangerous and Limit Theory are very different types of games, no matter what everybody says, so no point in bringing it up.

        It’s a great game in it’s own right and it’s great to see what Josh almost single handedly has achieved, but that they are both using procedural content or have a huge galaxy doesn’t make them alike.

        Elite: Dangerous is set in a scientifically accurate 1:1 scale Milky Way galaxy, while Limit Theory is set in an infinite fantasy universe that can be different every time you play.

        Limit Theory has a lots of empire building and RTS style fleet managment elements, while Elite is what it would be like to be a spacefarer in a believable galaxy from a first person’s perspective.

        Also Elite: Dangerous will have mass-multiplayer in addition to singeplayer, while Limit Theory is only singleplayer.

        It’s no competition, they are just very different types of games.

        • daphne says:

          I agree that it’s no competition (in the sense that they are all bros trying to revive the same genre), but they are not different types of games.

          In particular, you are also a spacefarer in LT, you don’t start out as an empire builder. That’s the lategame. In that respect it’s closer to the X series.

          No need to lash out against what everybody thinks… in this case, everybody’s right and you’re wrong.

          • dreamscape says:

            Yes, the gameplay is closer to the X series, but you’re wrong that it’s the same type of game as Elite, the gameplay controls, avionics and setting are very different, especially since it’s focus isn’t from a first person perspective, then there is also walk around stuff that will be in Elite.

            Elite: Dangerous will be closer to Star Citizen, but even that is stretching it, since it’s also in a different setting, not all kinds of space are equal.

        • Stardreamer says:

          There are differences, yes, but they are still very similar games. Outrun 2006 and Elite are very different games. I don’t see what your problem is with two broadly similar space games being compared with each other. But I agree it’s not a competition. We space fans have waited aeons for this type of service from the industry and we owe it to ourselves not to splinter in silly rivalries when we can have ALL the fun.

          • dreamscape says:

            That they both feature space, trading, space ships and procedural content doesn’t automatically make them similar.
            Just like you wouldn’t call Outrun and iRacing similar.
            Or Ace combat and Falcon.

            It’s not about rivalry, but about honesty and informing the public and newbies to space games that there are major fundamental and philosophical differences between those games.

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            Arnvidr says:

            There’s probably less differences than between Outrun and iRacing, and I’d still call those games similar. They’re both about racing after all. Doesn’t mean they provide the same experience.

  2. DuneTiger says:

    I’ll be the first to admit that I am a sucker for spaceships. The only reason I never got into EVE was because it was an MMO. This looks absolutely fantastic.

  3. Syphus says:

    I don’t understand. From what I see the game is not out yet. Yet I see some kind of patch download on the website?

    • Hurracane says:

      It was a patch for the Prototype that got released to the higher backers, the prototype was a lot of fun and he fixed the majority of the bugs in it so we could just have fun killing things.

  4. AshRolls says:

    I’m genuinely worried that Josh is going insane. He works on this game long hours every day (read the dev logs). The man deserves a medal, he’s making the space game that I want to play. I just hope he doesn’t lose all his marbles somewhere in that beautiful real time object viewer.

    • Warduke says:

      That kind of passion is enviable. Everyone should feel that every now and then.

  5. karthink says:

    Wow, visual traversal and editing of what are basically ini files. That is a simple and brilliant idea, especially since the game updates in real time. The latter sounds bloody hard to do, though.

    This is a silly question to ask after watching an amazing video on systems, but: Does LT have a cockpit view?

    • BTAxis says:

      Quote from the FAQ on the LT forums:
      “Possibly a fixed cockpit position but definitely no animated instruments or framework made from fixed bitmaps.”

  6. PsychoWedge says:

    to me the data ui is more beautiful than the game… xD I want that for my daily work with windows.

    • melnificent says:

      Agreed, I’d love to see that as a seperate UI for linux

  7. The First Door says:

    Wow, that data UI is just beautiful! Love the gentle animation in it too.

    Every video I see from Josh just makes me smile too, as he is such a programmer. Like the multiple visualisation layouts, that just smacks of a programmer having a little ‘time off’ by doing something else pretty when some other code is being a bit of a git!

    (Just to make sure no one misreads me: having a programmer’s brain is awesome, as long as it’s your own)

  8. kael13 says:

    He has a very relaxed air about him, if he wasn’t making video games, I could easily watch him do Let’s Plays.

    But yes, it’s good he’s making games, as this one looks great!

    Edit: Holy crap, I’d like that data editor for the Windows Registry/file system.

  9. Warduke says:

    Wow, that editor is amazing.

  10. Yosharian says:

    I just can’t watch this stuff because I’m too afraid that it won’t be as pant-shittingly-awesome as it promises to be

    • JimboDeany says:

      Exactly, I daren’t get my hopes up for fear of bankrupting myself funding my underpant needs as a result!

  11. Malfeas says:

    This is insanely impressive.
    It serves both to stoke my ideas and ambitions for game making as well as make me feel completely inadequate in seeing how ingenious some people are. Weird feeling, that.

    Also: Someone needs to make sure all data editing is done this way in the future ASP.

  12. KirbyEvan says:

    I hadn’t heard of this game before, but consider me on the hype train now!

  13. bigredrock says:

    I’m very glad I backed this. Even if the game doesn’t turn out to be great, it’s been worth it to watch Josh developing it.

    And I’m pretty sure it WILL turn out to be great. This guy is a proper genius. The perfect balance between maths and poetry.

  14. morbiusnl says:

    ccp should hire this guy to redesign Eve’s UI

  15. Armante says:

    Very happy I backed this. The updates have been fun, and the progress is amazing. This latest one blew my mind though; not only is the UI incredible, but it allowed him to modify things in the engine, in real time, and see the immediate effect.

    Josh is awesome, and I backed this basically to allow this cool kid (yes, I’m old enough to be his father) to follow his dream.

  16. Johnny Go-Time says:

    Josh, if you’re out there…This is the first I’ve heard of your project, and I was overwhelmed by the video :~)
    Please consider finding a way to let me throw my money at you before it’s final release

  17. Muzman says:

    So this musician guy solo codes huge space game and writes perhaps the most significant advance on the drop down menu just for a lark.

  18. crinkles esq. says:

    “I don’t even see the code. All I see is blonde, brunette, redhead, spaceship.”

    * I’m not a fan of the new shader effect for this game. While it’s a cool effect, it makes the gameworld look like there’s an atmosphere, and for a space-based game that just looks unrealistic. Glad there will be an option to turn it off.
    * The data file visualizer is beautiful. I’m unconvinced that it will be an efficient interface, but it looks like a Hollywood version of a sci-fi computer interface. Better, even. The animations and fractal patterns really are hypnotic. If Josh is reading this, I would suggest a click-and-drag behavior for the nodes that changes the numeric values as you drag up and down, instead of having to click and then type values with the keyboard. That should make changing values a bit more expedient.
    * I just saw Josh’s portfolio site. I assumed he was an established programmer with several big titles under his belt, but he’s still getting his degree! His work on this game makes that extremely impressive.
    * I really regret I didn’t know about this game when it was on KS.

  19. SuicideKing says:

    WHY isn’t that the default UI for Windows? That’s magnificent! I could buy Limit Theory just for that editor!

  20. kajdanovitch says:

    Andrew ? Andrew Kramer ?
    Or maybe his brother ?

    link to

    I looks amazing though, I wonder if something else exists with this type of code visualisation

  21. vivlo says:

    To think that i was drifted away from this game when i saw the videos where you could only navigate on a 2d plane. Now i want it as a background for my everyday operating system!

  22. Beernut says:

    There’s a new dev-diary-entry:
    link to
    Still very much looking forward to it!