As the song goes, in space no-one can hear you party like it's one-hundred-and-ninety-nine. Which is a shame given update 199 for Astroneer [official site] contains a whole bundle of things. It's not content-heavy/content-at-all-y which I know is a source of frustration for people who are playing it through Early Access. For people like me who pop back in every few months it's fun to see how the development process is moving, though.
In this instance it sounds like developers System Era are making some meaningful changes on the engineering and stability side which is good. If you'd prefer to know about future content stuff skip down to the part about Prototyping, otherwise join me as I get excited about the ability to change the colours of beacons - no longer will I roam the land assuming I'm going in one direction and then realising I confused one identical beacon with another...
Okay, so. This will be a bit of a hodgepodge of thoughts so if you'd prefer to read the notes in their original form you can find them here. These are my own highlights:
[AS-1305] - Beacon colors can now be changed.
This longtime request has now been implemented. Beacons now serve as aids for finding a previous spot, as well as for navigation. Use the in-game UI to cycle through colors or choose the 'red strobe" option for emergencies.
[AS-1145] - Audio has been migrated to the Wwise Engine from Unreal 4 and remixed using the new technology.
This includes a bunch of changes but I really like the sound of things like this:
- Tracks broken down into separate layers to leverage Wwise game states.
- Music becomes distorted when low on oxygen.
- Music changes based on time of day.
- Music now streams rather than load entirely on game start, reducing RAM impact
- Sound is sent through a reverb when underground.
Partly I just liked having those things laid out in a list for me to be consciously aware of, because I tend to notice sound more when it's wrong than when it's right and I often don't pay enough specific attention to how it's achieving particular effects. This list is stuff other games do, obviously, but like I say, there's just something nice about reading it.
Here are a few more:
- Both the medium and small generator’s audio slows down when their “fuel” is near empty.
- Music does not abruptly start again when death occurs, it now fades back in over an extended period of time.
- Sandstorms now have improved distance attenuation and better stereo / surround panning.
- Rover engine audio no longer plays when rolling unpowered down an incline
[AS-1259] - Each suit now has a unique Death animation.
Then we hit the Prototyping section of the notes. This isn't stuff from this patch, it's more about the direction of the game and the things the devs are working on at the moment. They're pretty much all things that were known but are being reaffirmed.
First is that, yup, modularity is happening and the devs are figuring out how to integrate that way of building with pieces into the game. Then they nod to the ongoing work on the Research 2.0 system where researching is part of progression in a more deliberate way. Dedicated servers are also progressing and working in some form internally.
They also talk about Terrain 2.0. I'll quote that directly because I'd skimmed that stuff and hadn't realised the implications here:
Zabir is working on applying the Terrain 2.0 prototype to spherical planets. If you haven't heard, Terrain 2.0 will allow us to dramatically increase performance, which will allow the game to run better, but more importantly, lift the multiplayer player limit. We are still a way off from doing that, but it gives some context for the importance of Terrain 2.0.
Reading through the comments on the update is an interesting experience, though, in that it provokes a lot of thought about what the nature of Early Access is, and what the responsibility of the player is to manage their own experience.
We caveat all of our Early Access chat with the idea that if you invest you need to be okay with the chance the game will never progress further than what's in front of you right now, but that's never how the game itself is positioned because the devs generally believe the game will come out and want the game to come out.
But if you do pick up an Early Access title I think players suddenly need to do some calculations to manage their own experience in a way you don't often need to with finished games. Do you mine out each update for everything? Do you play for a bit and then dip back in at strategic points to check in or to explore specific elements that interest you? Do you buy it to take advantage of a lower price and then sit out the early access section entirely?
How we choose to play Early Access is partly governed by what the developers add and when, but there's a fascinating additional layer of self-knowledge - knowing what type of play makes you happiest, knowing your own tendency to play something for dozens of hours and then get bored, never returning, knowing that you prefer to experience an entire story rather than bits and pieces, knowing that it's the bug reporting and the pitching in which you love...
It reminds me of how, as an adult, you make a lot of these types of choices every day with regard to food, especially treats. I sometimes catch myself realising that I could just have ice cream for all my meals because there's no-one there to stop me and then realising that I know enough about myself and my body to know why I won't actually do that.
To wrap up, I thought I'd just flag up this bit of the update notes in case anyone currently playing has tried to fix specific irritants by changing the .ini file in some way:
If you previously used INI tweaks to adjust Astroneer performance, we recommend you reinstall the game, or revert your config files. We upgraded Unreal, and old tweaks to the .ini file will most likely cause you to crash or encounter unintended behaviors. Many crash reports we receive are related to the adjustment of source files, and we cannot offer support for saves broken by these adjustments.