Devlog #17 - Juice in Release 23

Still unsure if I should keep going with this. It is kind of fun but really limited. I think the next step is to add a butt-tonne of content and a questing system. I can see how that will work but it's a lot of work to do and I don't want to sink any more time if it's just not fun.

I'd appreciate some more feedback on whether some of the concerns you had on how fun it is to move the Cloudship around and shoot etc. Is it still a pain in the arse?

Download the release here.

Thanks again, chaps!

Known stuff

  • There's a bug that pops up every so often with building placement. Just keep clicking until it drops and try again. Not sure what's causing that.
  • The smoke from the chimney still jitters at speed


Right, gave it a couple of goes on my home setup (XPS13 with GTX1080 on the local screen). Had to remember some of the controls (WASD for right-handed freaks, Space to shoot, B to build).

I put on 2 chimneys and a bridge initially, and then got a couple of lumps of building material to build a cannon and a third chimney. I went for another lump, but then found I was being shot at...cue a fairly frustrating battle and I dropped out.

I'm going to do a lot of comparisons to games with a similar worldview, mainly (I think) Desert Strike and Sid Meiers Pirates! In both of these games you control a full vessel, and there are open-world objectives to complete. I shall try, in all cases, to be objective.

1) I _really_ don't like the controls. It's a combination of high inertia, compounded with the lack of zero-input reset (ie, when you input a LEFT command, the ship continues to turn left until you input a RIGHT doesn't straighten up when you remove the control input). This makes a very basic challenge (grabbing some build material) incredibly hard and annoying. The only way I could manage it was to drop down to the lowest speed and crawl over the materials (and I still missed some). It's worse in a gun battle (I ended up just spinning on the spot). To go further, as the LEFT command is analog (e.g. 10...don't know what you are using internally), if I need to go RIGHT for some reason I have to wait while the turn goes LEFT 10...LEFT 9...LEFT 8...LEFT 7 etc etc. It makes the controls feel very sluggish, before you add in the inertia of the ship (effectively double-inertia...mass and control). This fundamentally differs to other games, (Desert Strike/Pirates!), and means that you can't do the fine-control adjustment (to give some context, I strongly remember the buzz in Desert Strike of jinking through some shots/buildings, getting a winch shot on something and getting off into the distance).

I don't know how hard it would be to implement, but would it be possible to trial an alternate input mechanism, where (for left and right specifically) the degree of change increases with the length of the key press (1-10), but immediately goes to zero on release (I'm assuming the physics would have some inertia separate to this), which would allow a user to go (for example) Left 10 to Right 1+ immediately. This would allow a lot more control. I'd also suggest jinking as a method of movement, not just turning. At low/zero speed this would be incredibly useful for accurate winching.

2) I personally think the camera is too close. During the battle smoke blocked my view a lot (I shall give it another go after I've finished here, and try and get a screenshot). This combined with the control issues meant that it was nigh impossible to do anything sensible. I had put my gun sideways (thats whre ships put their guns in my mind...broasides or get the fuck out). Again looking at other games (Pirates/Desert Strike) the camera was pulled back to a semi-fixed perspective...this allowed the player strategic view of the play field, and also provided a decent sense of direction.

3) Building. I know you have put a shitload of work into this, so I'm slightly nervous about questioning it...but what purpose does it actually serve? You have to have a certain amount of items on the vehicle initially (bridge, chimneys), so I'd suggest starting with them. Upgrades...fine (go faster, more guns etc etc). I can understand you want some kind of "if you have X of these, you may only have Y of these", but there needs to be a baseline "you must have A, B and C". Other games I can think of handle this with a combination of item slots and power (Space Run/FTL). I had 3 chimneys, but not sure how to move them, so ended up Chimney, bridge, Chimney, Chimney down the middle of the ship (not a great view).

4) Scale - It just doesn't feel big. I know thatthis is supposed to be some kind of massive flying city, but it feels like a normal airship. THis could agin be visual cues, and no land terrain. Maybe you need little trees or buildings underneath...dunno on that. The controls don't feel ponderous, they just feel awkward and a bit frustrating.

Again, it's tricky, as it's very much a work in progress, anad there is no game around it.

babychaos's picture

Got a 7.5 minute video uploading...shall link and provide notes once it's done.

babychaos's picture

OK, some notes (writing this up as it's uploading, so the timing may be off by a few seconds based on how YouTube does it)

As we start I have built a basic airship (2 chimneys and a bridge, which is as much as I could build initially), and I'm off picking up some more build materials. As the video starts you can just see I've missed some materials (claw is extended), as on approach I drifted slightly to one side. I approach a second pile, and slow down significantly.

At 0m40 I have to do some significant low-speed position corrections, as the wind is moving me away from the flotsam. As I finally get it, an enemy starts shooting. I get the flotsam and high-tail it, as I dont have any cannons myself

At 1m 15 I use the materials I have to add a third chimney, with the plan to outrun the enemy and grab more flotsam to build some cannons. You can see me struggling to see through the smoke at about 1m30, trying to draw a line on another pile.

At 1m45 we discover that you can't pick up flotsam at full gas with 3 chimneys, the winch does not get down early enough, and I go straight past. At 2m00 you can see a classic oversteer, due to the response lag, as I attempt a U-Turn to make another pass. Smoke is again getting in the way of me spotting where the flotsam is, so it's hard to get a good line-up on it. I grab the flotsam at 2m30s as the enemy starts shooting, and hightail it again.

At 2m48 I fail to pick up more flotsam, again as the winch does not get down fast enough (note - its actually a lot easier to be on target for a pickup at high speed, as the control input is far more than the drift input). I'm having to watch from one side, as I can't see through the smoke.

At 3m00 I'm doing a U-turn again, and again it's oversteer. I'm also into the build menu to add a 4th chimney. This is when I discover you cannot build while turning, as the item does not follow the rotation of the ship. I turn off the build menu, straighten out and then add the 4th chimney (3m20). I'm now probably nippy enough to avoid conflict. I spend a few seconds looking for some flotsam far enough away that I can get a good line on it, and some distance from the enemy so I can slow down and pick it up. I see some and start my approach.

At 3m48 I get my last "from behind" view" before the flotsam vanishes behind the chimneys/smoke, and I'm slowing down to fine-tune my movement (and give the winch chance to get down). Heavy re-corrections at 4m00 (typical issue...the wind drift has pushed me to one side, so I have to do a sharp turn at low speed). The smoke is straight into the camera, so it's very hard to determine what is where. Even now, at 4m20s I'm still having to do significant correction for drift to get near the flotsam. I achieve the pickup and dash off as the enemy approaches. At 4m45 I'm lining up another pickup.

5m10 is more slow-speed position correction due to drift/inertia, with the eventual pickup after a 180' move at 5m20. If nothing else, I'm getting better at turning round at slow speed. Enemy is nearly there again, so I line up another pickup. At 5m50 seconds I'm doing a low speed, high adjustment approach to another pile. At 6m07 I'm pretty sure I'm directly over the flotsam, but the winch has not deployed. My assumption is that I have filled up some non-visible storage, and I must be at max flotsam. I enter the build menu, and start adding cannons. I figure out the rotation keys (Q and E) on the first one, and set it up for broadside positioning. I'm planning on 4-5 on each side, so I can do a high-speed fly-by and rake the enemy ship. First one goes on at 6m45.

The second one seems determined to be in the middle of the ship (in the middle of the chimneys). I get it out eventually, but the rotation stuff fails, so it's pointing forward (don't know how to edit once it's in place). That seems to be as much as I can build (so eiter it was a fault with the winch, or the amount of flotsam you can hold is very small), so I close the build menu and turn for battle (7m05)

At 7m25 I am at full tilt towards the enemy (he has the same plan). I'm whacking space bar, but nothing is shooting right now. I plan to go to the right ( as my cannon is on the left, so will point towards him). The AI is obviously just on "head towards player" (fair enough) and we collide at 7m32. I didn't actually realise this initially (the smoke is blocking my view), only saw it on the video replay. Comically that takes the enemy out, and did a fair chunk of damage to me as well. I was mid-turn for another pass before I realised he was down. I then ended the recording.

So, takeaways from this;

- Fine control is not fun. The slower you go, the more the drift screws you over, and there is no easy/graceful way of overcoming it. I _really_ dislike the control lag (as described above)
- Visibiliy and the camera do not help. Personally, I'd go for a higher, more fixed camera position to give a quasi-strategic overview...then add off-screen enemy indicators
- The "AI" of the winch does not work at any speed. Not sure if you want this or not, but if you're allowing fast ships, it feels right that an accurate flyover of flotsam should be possible.
- The building (and rotation/placement) is fiddly. I'm not sure it adds anything. Personally, I think I'd prefer a basic ship model (slow and heavy, fast and light etc etc) with upgradable slots.
- Ramming is a legit strategy, and ramming bow should be in there.

Edit - one more feature I found...a 4-stack airship at full gas can overtake a cannonball shot from a front-facing cannon.

babychaos's picture

WOW, thank you for awesome feedback. I can't thank you enough. I hope to do it justice. I might seem a little bit short in reply on some of your points but only because you hit the nail squarely on the head. For those items that easily convert into a ticket, I've added them straight into Github issues and have linked. I'm going to use bold for quoting as the blockquote is too big.

Right. Let's get stuck in!

...WASD for right-handed freaks...
I hear your brother Issue #40.

This makes a very basic challenge (grabbing some build material) incredibly hard and annoying
Agreed. Why I've left it like this is beyond me. I've just got used to it; which is no reason to keep it this way.

would it be possible to trial an alternate input mechanism
Hell yes.

where (for left and right specifically) the degree of change increases with the length of the key press (1-10), but immediately goes to zero on release
Issue 73. Includes jinking.

I'm assuming the physics would have some inertia separate to this
Bang on.

I personally think the camera is too close.
Agreed. While holding the right mouse button, use the scroll wheel. It says it in the key bindings but that's not good enough. I think the Key binding screen might help alleviate this. Or a nicer tutorial than the wordy shit I put together before.

During the battle smoke blocked my view a lot
Yes, I find this bloody annoying too. Perhaps one fun way to solve this is to have a "bridge cam" where you press a button and are then hovering over the bridge (I'd say looking out of but there's no interior just now). I think you recommended something similar before. I'm half tempted to put in "first person mode".

Building. I know you have put a shitload of work into this, so I'm slightly nervous about questioning it...
Question everything. Regardless of the work put in so far, I'm constantly wondering whether to shelve the project or keep going. Please keep asking!

but what purpose does it actually serve?
Right now, not a lot because the choice is limited. I'd like the player to have more choice in the types of buildings they have and to construct a "build" that is their own. I want the buildings to be more numerous and smaller in footprint so that you can get more on (current fiddly builder controls would make this a nightmare, dealt with below).

You have to have a certain amount of items on the vehicle initially (bridge, chimneys), so I'd suggest starting with them
Good idea. Issue #74

but not sure how to move them
Click and drag; again, not obvious.

Scale - It just doesn't feel big. I know that this is supposed to be some kind of massive flying city, but it feels like a normal airship.

THis could agin be visual cues, and no land terrain
Correct. And the buildings are terribly out of scale. I'm going to have a play with making the people run around on deck along with a graphical update. I want to work on questing and economy before I do them.

The controls don't feel ponderous
Agreed. I hope I can get them to ponderous. Not sure how right now but with a few more iterations and your suggestions, we might get close!

and there is no game around it.
Agreed. Thank you for persevering nonetheless!


I found myself right-clicking and dragging to move the camera a lot...

At 1m45 we discover that you can't pick up flotsam at full gas with 3 chimneys
Initially, I wanted people to fly slowly to pick up flotsam but having watched this, I don't see any reason why the hook can't just be shat out of the bottom regardless of speed. It still needs skill to line it up correctly.

I notice that you never bang it in reverse from full chat. With three chimneys, it'll stop like you've thrown out an anchor. Issue 82

This is when I discover you cannot build while turning, as the item does not follow the rotation of the ship.
Agreed. Issue #75

I'm now probably nippy enough to avoid conflict.

My assumption is that I have filled up some non-visible storage, and I must be at max flotsam.
Bang on. The flotsam dial should have some kind of warning in red on it to catch your eye. Issue #76

the amount of flotsam you can hold is very small
It is. To hold more, you need to have a store on the ship. You then have the choice of whether to build regularly or store a lot and build in batches.

I'm whacking space bar, but nothing is shooting right now.
Shooting is left click. Although space bar would be good too. Issue #83

then add off-screen enemy indicators
Great idea. Issue #78

The building (and rotation/placement) is fiddly
I completely agree. It needs more love. It's a little easier if you zoom in but there's nothing telling you to do that and it's still too fiddly. Issue #77

Ramming is a legit strategy, and ramming bow should be in there.
Great idea. Issue #79

4-stack airship at full gas can overtake a cannonball shot from a front-facing cannon.
Good catch. I'd seen it get close on a 3-chimney design with a high wind. I need to sort that. Issue #80

Thank you, thank you, thank you

for sticking with it. I think I've caught the main bits into issues. If I have missed anything huge, please do point it out. If anything else occurs to you, please do pop it in a comment.

Before reading your kind feedback and video, I wasn't sure if I had made meaningful progress but I think I have and I think it's worth another release. The controls are better but need to be better still and I can do that. If I get steering corrected then I might be able to slow things down a touch.

Still accepting feedback...

But I understand if others prefer to wait until I have made these changes first. :)

brainwipe's picture

Ok thoughts and observations.

Very difficult to control it requires you to be very precise to pick up flotsam and you just don't have anywhere near that level of control especially with the claw swinging around wildly underneath the ship as any sort of speed. It becomes this exercise in frustration as the claw swings repeatedly past the flotsam never connecting, I've flown right over flotsam and it's just missed because I was going full speed so the claw can't reach things.

Control doesn't seem to improve much with more chimneys it does improve slightly but it's still feels like I'm fighting the thing to get it to go the direction I want it to.

The smoke effect as you get more chimneys gets in the way. I had three chimneys and the smoke was basically obscuring most of the screen there is also some odd thing where the smoke is leading the chimneys so if you go forward the smoke comes out ahead of the chimneys the faster you go the further ahead it goes like it's gaining velocity from the ship shooting out ahead of it which looks very weird. It does the same in reverse when you go backwards so it seems like it's some sort of physics glitch with the initial velocity. I can see it happening in pete's vid but less often than I was seeing it maybe something to do with placement I had my chimneys in a line down the middle.

it's still isn't very fun to play it needs some sort of objective or something some reason rather than just to float aimlessly about trying to pick up flotsam to allow you to build stuff to pick up more flotsam to build more ... and so on

Evilmatt's picture

EMW, thank you!

Very difficult to control
Agreed! That's priority #1.

The smoke effect as you get more chimneys gets in the way.
Agreed. Apart from more freedom of camera movement, I'm not sure what to do about this one.

there is also some odd thing where the smoke is leading the chimneys
I think it does it a little bit in 3:29 in the video above. I'll see if I can repro it. The particles do have some velocity from the ship, I'll see if I can tone that down.

it needs some sort of objective or something some reason
Agreed! Absolutely. If I can get the steering right then "making it a game" will ensue.

Thank you so much, EMW! Much appreciated.

brainwipe's picture

So, I was having a think last night...this all came back to me as I settled into my nightly reading session, which just happens to be the most recent book in the Free Wrench series by Joseph Lallo. It's about airship pirates.

My normal problem-solving process is "this can't be a unique issue, either someone smarter than me has had it before, or it's an avoidable issue". The issue at hand here is "how do you make large, ponderous machines fun to control?". So, I tried to come up with a list of large (city-sized) examples of craft (current, historic and fictional)...most of the ones that came to mind were significantly smaller (in the case of the Free-Wrench series, it's a 6-man craft, with one of those being a cook). It turns out a lot of other references are similar.

So, an attempted listing of exceptionally large craft

Aircraft Carrier (current) - probably the closest real-world version of a cloudship. Not known for turning quickly, but then again they weight quite a bit, so momentum is an issue.

Starship Enterprise (fictional) - You know when you hit Wikipedia for something, and fall into a rabbit warren of excessive information about fictional universes?. Approximately 1,000 crew and weighing 462,000 metric tons. I had less success finding out it's how well it turns as most Star Trek battles are resolved via strategy and science, not really dogfighting. The Star Trek battleships are significantly smaller (the closest reference I could find were Defiant Class ones, with a crew size of 50 and ~170m long)

SHIELD Helicarrier (fictional) - which probably can't actually fly, and is not seen doing any manoevres, it's just for getting up in the sky and acting as a command centre.

Battlestar Galactica (fictional) - I struggled to find much in the way of sizes for these monsters, though we have stuff like 150 on-board fighters, shuttles etc, and it was designed as a Capital Ship, leading a fleet. Again, not much high-speed manoevres is done.

Deathstar (fictional) - the only motion that is ever seen is coming round a planet, and that takes several minutes. I'm gonna stick my neck out and say this can't do U-Turns, and mainly operates in orbit only.

Battlefield 2142 Titan (fictional) - this was one of the only controllable ones I could think of, as it was the only game mode I relly played in BF2142. They didn't really do much, and the fluff describes them as primarily cargo carriers. Piloting them in-game allowed you to slowly reposition them on the map.

Battlefield 1942 Aircraft Carrier (fictional) - I'm sure everyone remembers this, and every game we played in the Battle of Midway devolved into Rob desperately trying to make us play the game, while everyone else jumped in the aircraft carrier, got a couple of outrunner landing craft as spotters, and went on a ramming mission on the enemy carrier...

...and that last one really hits the nail on the head I think. The bloody thing had a turning circle of 2 weeks, and any fine control needed a lot of notice (hence the outrunners). Large (I'm going to call them epic-sized) vehicles tend to drive by committee, and positioning is filed by paper 5 working days in advance. The only example I can think of that has any ability to move quickly is the USS Enterprise, and that is famously well known for breaking all rules of physics at least once per episode. The controllable examples I can think of (the Battlefield games) are really just moving spawn points, as opposed to directly being in the game.

So I was trying to fly the cloudship as if it was something significantly smaller, some kind of fighter-class with fast turning, quick responses...not something that a 100,000 ton airship could ever do (I'm guessing the weight, however a Nimitz-Class aircraft carrier seems reasonable as a starting point). So, what are the solutions for this that have been used?

Well, nearly all of them are "use smaller craft". Aircraft carriers are nearly always part of a fleet, with protective craft, and (obviously) aircraft. In the book I was reading, larger pirate ships have smaller launches (called Wailers, after the high-pitched noise their motors make), and within the story they are often outdone by smaller, more nimble craft. When we were playing Air Bucanneers, we quite quickly gravitated to the smaller, "faster" 2-man balloons, and got to using the short-range flame-shot to rake the larger, slower craft. Historically, whaling ships used a similar model...a large, central "Capital Ship", and a number of smaller, faster (and cheaper) craft to hunt and scout. The cost thing is also important...when you have Capital Ship, there is a huge amount of resource and energy tied up in it, and in the normal course of events you wouldn't risk it in mundane activities, you would send a smaller, less resource-expensive craft.

Anyhow, long story short...I could not come up with any existing examples of epic-sized craft that were in a game and were "fun" to fly. I can come up with loads of smaller 4-6 man ones (which I tend to refer to as Firefly-sized, as since that program a lot of fictional settings have shamelessly ripped it off), and a fair few examples of mobile base/outlier craft...where the player(s) tend to control the smaller craft. This makes sense in a take the most extreme example, I suspect the pilot of the Deathstar really doesn't do that much day-to-day, but the pilot of a Tie-Fighter probably has a busy day in a battle.

So, in the Cloudship universe, are there smaller craft? Looking at the current vision I've had of it, a couple of small, nippy craft with one cannon each would easily fly down the meridian trench and pop a couple of photon torpedos down the exhaust port. Would focus on these make the "fun" aspect easier? One thing that immediately comes to mind is, if you had a small craft, flying upto a Cloudship and then between the funnels, or past one of the mega-cannons would _really_ give a sense of the epic scale of them...

babychaos's picture

Thanks for turning your considerable nerd intellect to this somewhat thorny problem! Sorry it took so long to reply, I wanted to go through the links and do some thinking too.

Epic size = slow = not much fun. Completely agree.

There are some options...

Smaller craft
You point out to use smaller craft. In this universe, there are! When I ran Cloudship Atlantis with Aggro, Byrn et al, they built themselves a little runabout. However, my main aim for the game is to "take your base with you". It's a base management sim where you go exploring; not really a FPS/sim thing where you fly about.

Assume cartoony physics
Least amount of work; I'm pretty much there.

Add scale in by adding people
Once you see people running around on the deck, you'll get a sense of scale. That'll make the physics look more cartoony but with the extra dimension of looking after actual people, it'll feel more like a base rather than a sim where you shoot stuff.

Having said that...

flying upto a Cloudship and then between the funnels, or past one of the mega-cannons
That makes me want to put in first person more than anything. I have no idea of the scale of work, tho.

As an aside...

you would send a smaller, less resource-expensive craft

This is how Star Trek: Voyager ends up. They even have a "Delta Flyer" shuttle that is for the sole purpose of putting the crew into risk without risking the whole crew. This is not a recommendation for ST:V, btw, I'm just slogging through it so it's fresh in my mind.

In other news...

I got the control update done. For the player ship, it was as simple as going from:

    public Vector3 DesiredTorque() => transform.up * commandTurn * Time.deltaTime;


    void ForceDueToCommandTurn()
        if (parent.CommandTurn == 0)
            float direction = 1;
            if (rigidBody.angularVelocity.y > 0)
                direction = -1;
            rigidBody.AddTorque(transform.up * Time.deltaTime * Torque * direction);
            rigidBody.AddTorque(transform.up * parent.CommandTurn * Time.deltaTime * Torque);

There's no jinking yet. I need to boost the torque when the yaw (angularVelocity) is small.

brainwipe's picture

Or shake things up a bit and make it so the ship flies on autopilot and the player give simple commands for what they want to do, then the ship slowly performs the action, it would free the user up to do other tasks?

Bigger Rob's picture

Dunno if you've seen this Rob...the Unity Humble Bundle has a load of Unity Assets

About £12 for everything

babychaos's picture

Thanks mate! I saw this roll up this morning. Yoink for sure. :)

brainwipe's picture

Migraine pause

I've had migraines for about a week now but they have finally started to fall away, so I have a chance to write up the stuff I was doing just before they kicked in.

Flotsam Indicator

One of the problems that you all spotted was that it's very difficult to know when the flotsam store is full, so I added an indicator. The first one I put on I wanted to be like the "power off" indicator on the artificial horizon that we had on the Vigilant motor gliders. I got it working and discovered a bit of a problem...

It was covered by the sodding needle (of course). So I made a new one:

Which is much easier to see. I intend on putting on tooltips in the future so that should help newbies a lot.

I also rewrote the camera movement scripting, changing it from Cartesian co-ordinates (XYZ) to polar (angle and distance). This helped zoom WAAAY in and also get to "almost vertical". I also got jinking working (see the start of the video) and there is an enemy indicator on the compass. I'm not 100% happy with it but it was very quick to do, so it'll be OK for now.

brainwipe's picture

For the first time since migraines began, I managed to get up early this morning and do a little bit on Cloudship! I think it was Pete that first recommended a "Bridge Cam", so I decided to do the simplest thing possible! I moved all the camera movement stuff out of the main camera class and then (on a click of a button), the camera cycles through views: Third Person (the normal view), Cinematic (like third person but without the controller and smoother movement) and now Bridge Cam:

It's not much use for picking up flotsam as you can't see the hook. However, shooting is now a little easier to line up. I could make it even easier by having the cannons point in the same direction as the camera. Or "what the camera is looking at" to be more precise. That would allow some level of aiming, which makes the bridge cam even more useful.

Adding new Camera modes in is now easy, so I could put in a claw-cam or even (for chuckles) a cannonball-cam!

I'm not going to make the camera transition smoothly just now, I need to move onto a new particle system to help show wind direction where there are no clouds. Tis been fun to get back into!

brainwipe's picture