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The joy of roleplay-flavoured patch notes in ΔV: Rings Of Saturn

Being extra, extra!

There's a sometimes hard to define line between a game that effectively establishes and embellishes its fiction (good, righteous), and one that has "lore" (tedious, lowly). It's a delicate art that warrants close consideration. It also warrants some good examples, which brings us to ΔV: Rings Of Saturn. Which, as it gets closer to release, I'm going to be nice to and call either Delta V or Rings Of Saturn. Even though Triangle Vee Colon Rings is more fun.

It's also fun, having played it, to keep up with how it’s doing in early access, not just because I'm looking forward to seeing it take off, but because its dev has spent the last few years writing delightful patch notes in the style of in-world news bulletins.

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Rings Of Saturn doesn't clamour for your attention with datalogs and exposition. Its world is not particularly storied, or initially established beyond the basic concept of the game: fly a ship that mines asteroids. The telling is in the glowing readouts, the clanking and hissing ships, the floaty, measured pace, and the contrast between your mundane, repetitive work and the incredible splendour of space (and a corresponding soundtrack). It's not a huge game, but is so lovingly crafted that its smallest parts feel big.

Each significant patch has descriptions in plain, direct-to-player language of what's changed, but that's at the bottom. At the top are the parts where that same information is told as a public service announcement for the game's miners. A change to the marking of hostile ships on screen is presented as a new licensing requirement for pilots, who accuse it of being "a thinly veiled tax". A fix to AI crashing into certain obstacles is framed as a new fine for crews who push those objects out of orbit, following the alcohol fueled "M374-A moonlet incident.... The fee is set at a flat rate of 1 million E$ per incident and the enforcement will begin next week".

A space in the black void of space in Rings Of Saturn. Another vessel has made contact confirming they'll stand down from combat

My favourite is from last December. In addition to fixing crew experience gain ("some station citizens voice concerns that interlunar transits could be subtracted from mandatory vacation quotas"), Kodera added an option to disable dynamic lighting, including the sun, to improve performance. And so we got a PSA about a local corporation launching a new navigational array, allowing miners to get farther-ranging data. Then, under the conventional section: "For roleplaying purposes, you can assume you are diving into the shadow of Saturn."

I love this so much. Turning mundane technical updates into an opportunity to colour in their world. It speaks of such love for their work, and consideraton for people who play it. It's the same impulse that once filled the best game manuals. Sure, it's probably just as much about the dev making their own amusement during the unglamorous work of mucking out the gametubes, but it's still a win-win.

I can wait as long as necessary for Delta V's full release. Its consistent improvement has been a highlight of the last few years, and it will likely be a strong contender for the best b-side of whatever year it comes out.

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