Icarus Incoming, Early Access Progress Update

It’s been a while since I posted a development news update, largely because I’ve been spending almost all my time on development. Since Ganymede was made the default build, there have been two opt-in betas: Helios and now the latest, Icarus.

Overall players are very happy with the progress since launch. The number one complaint with Ganymede was the number of areas where players could get “stuck” due to lack of information on how to progress. While there are areas of the game where players may need to figure things out on their own, I don’t want players to be stuck with nothing to do for any significant amount of time, particularly on the main story line. A major goal of the recent builds has been to improve the mission system, particularly providing more guidance in areas where players don’t know what to do to advance the main story.

In a little over a week I plan to make Icarus the new default build, so if you are about to start a first-time or new playthrough, I’d suggest switching to the Icarus build now (see here for instructions, choose “Icarus Unstable” as the beta). It has more content, particularly in the mid and late game, and improves a large number of areas. Note that saves are not forward compatible with named build changes during Early Access, so you will not be able to switch to Icarus from a Ganymede save. Scroll down for a spoiler-free list of changes in Icarus.

Early Access Content Progress

There are several very rough metrics for how much content has been added since the start of Early Access: number of different anomalies, mission logic elements, and number of words. Mission logic elements are the smallest unit of “quest” logic. By itself, the number isn’t particularly meaningful, but it tends to grow roughly in line with the amount of game play content.

A small snippet of mission logic from the early game. Each green or pink colored box is a mission logic element.

I want to stress that I’m personally not focusing on any numeric metrics of content: I want to deliver the best possible experience to players. Part of that is having lots of different anomalies and things to discover, but increasing content numbers are a side-effect of the goal. I’m presenting these numbers to give players a sense of the overall progress.

Betelgeuse (Dec 2022, first Early Access version):
75 anomalies
1264 mission logic elements
25,000 words

Draconis (Jan 2023):
91 anomalies
1516 mission logic elements
29,000 words

Europa (Mar 2023):
111 possible anomalies
1839 mission logic elements
36,000 words

Fornax (May 2023):
120 possible anomalies
1990 mission logic elements
40,000 words

Ganymede (June 2023):
145 anomalies
2390 mission logic elements
48,000 words

Icarus (latest opt-in build):
179 anomalies
3339 mission logic elements
60,000 words

Examples of some of the 179+ anomaly images

For comparison, Starcom: Nexus had ~195 anomalies and 65,000 words (it used a different mission logic system so the numbers are not comparable, but it had considerably less mission logic than Unknown Space does now).

In terms of game length, the median time for first time players of Betelgeuse to reach the end of the main story line was 8 hours. For Ganymede, it was 16 hours. Again, I want to stress that I’m not focusing on numeric values: some of the more recent changes have been with the goal of reducing time spent wandering around not having any obvious missions to progress on.

At this point, I am starting to steer the huge vessel that is Starcom: Unknown Space toward an ending. I have a vision of what that ending looks like, but it will likely evolve as I implement it and get feedback from players.

To anticipate the question of “when is full release”, the answer remains unchanged: when it’s done. I hope to have an ending in place in the next few months, but it is likely that once that ending is in place I may spend several more months iterating on it. There are also a number of items not directly related to content development that will add several weeks here and there. As always, if players are finding that the game isn’t done, then it’s not done.

Helios & Icarus combined changes (relative to Ganymede):

  • 34 new planet anomalies
  • New stories, side quests, factions
  • New ship modules, techs
  • New enemy types
  • New discoveries
  • Mission log now differentiates missions, objectives by “actionable” status
  • Additional mission details to help with common “stuck” areas
  • Mission progress scaling by actionables, e.g., timed events and hints trigger faster if the player has few or no active mission objectives
  • Fog of Exploration tech
  • Alternate laser fire controls
  • Change to crew progression system
  • Changes to encounter, drop and anomaly balance
  • NPCs no longer aggro from small damage
  • All ships will eventually fully recover lost modules, e.g., Celaeno will repair itself. This has the added benefit of reducing save file sizes (a significant chunk of saves is storing full ship layouts)
  • Drop attract max speed scales up with ship speed (minimizes outrunning drop pick up)
  • NPCs will pick-up drops for their own kills after a brief delay
  • Scaled up asteroid objects
  • Trade planet icons
  • Allow mission lane expansion (should make releasing story patches easier)
  • Changes to visibility system
  • Increased color brightness of some factions
  • Lateral thruster changes, VFX
  • Change to mouse steering option
  • Lua consule for debugging with F11
  • Straight-line autopilot option
  • Autopilot to station will automatically dock
  • Changed “home” map marker
  • Numerous balance changes
  • AI changes
  • Support/maintenance crew
  • Added support for vysnc, exclusive full screen
  • Additional display options
  • Performance improvements
  • Numerous minor bug fixes

As a reminder, if you would like to follow development more closely, I post weekly updates every Friday in the Steam discussion forums and here on the game’s blog.