Ascent: Black Sky

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Ascent: Black Sky

Postby jam » Tue May 02, 2017 8:40 am

*RELAUNCH IS ABSOLUTELY NOT RESET* Nobody's losing anything.

Hello there. As some of you know I've been in negotiations of one sort or another with investors for the past six months. They're interested in the next title Fluffy Kitten Studios works on, and they've had an eye on Ascent too. Ascent has done surprisingly well with Steam sales and other revenues, despite little to no press coverage, no press reviews and barely any streamer coverage.

It's also proven that it can cover its own costs indefinitely, so even though "leaving it alone" is my least favourite option for going forward, it IS an option, and the odds of Ascent ever needing to be shut off are exactly zero. It could cover its own costs with ten players in early 2013, and it's proven it can scale costs up or down to any extent necessary to support any sized playerbase - big or small.

I gave a demo of Ascent yesterday to our prospective investor, and the response was "this is good; we should re-launch this product". Obviously I agree, and some kind of 're-launch' has been on my mind for about the last year or so.

So I have some ideas, and beyond that some questions for you, the playerbase. I think I'll link to this forum conversation from the Steam page too, perhaps bring in some of the new players that are arriving this week (we're on sale, 80 new accounts today) and get their viewpoint. Might also be worth a mailout to old accounts who progressed relatively deeply into the game. I want everyone's view on these issues.

Things I think are on my "must have" list for Ascent: Black Sky

  • Polish / Usability / Bug Fixes
  • New engine + new visual effects system (looks great in my other prototypes so should have some impact on Ascent)
  • Close out last few quests in the combat line
  • Enable the remaining terraforming systems
  • Nuclear weapons and their recreational use
  • Whatever the art people I've got looking at it now want to do that's "low hanging fruit" i.e. not spending tens of thousands replacing whole ship models

Obviously there's a whole "marketing and PR" bit that I won't get it into here, largely because I haven't the faintest clue what to do about it yet; just that we'll have some money aside for it.

So questions I have for the playerbase:

  • What usability / polish / bugs are the most high priority for you and why?
  • What's the ideal approach to a "re-launch"? Do we make a whole new product on Steam, give everyone who owns Ascent: The Space Game a key for Ascent: Black Sky? Or just a new/replacement bundle for the current product?
  • What do we do with our "subscriptions"? I have had the feeling for a while that we lose more in sales than we gain in regular income from these, and that we'd be better served by a (not-stupid) system of in-game purchases... Obviously if we drop "premium" we have to in-game compensate people who have lifetime subs etc. Things to think about.
  • Are there other features you think should be in a new release? Bear in mind I will have limited time for this so vast new stuff is probably going to be out of the picture for now.
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Re: Ascent: Black Sky

Postby jam » Tue May 02, 2017 8:42 am

Updating this post with my responses as we go along.

  • Relaunch is absolutely not in any way a reset. The whole point of having 270 billion star systems is never having to reset, not even 100 years from now when my grandchildren are running the game.
  • I'm not 100% locked in on the details but at present I envisage a re-launch being an exercise in cleaning up the game we have, finishing some of the still-open features that are ready to be closed off, improving the visuals a bit (and hopefully stability) and then a proper marketing push done in a way that says to the press "hey there's something new here, not the Ascent you saw in 2013, 2014, or 2015 (and even improved on the 2016!)". The idea is giving them something to write and stream about, which "update 1.5" is not. I would also like to see some new reviews on our Steam page. In the top 10 "most helpful" reviews you've still got thumbs-down ones complaining about stuff that was fixed literally years ago now. That's costing us sales, players and money (and therefore development and art time) every single day it stays that way.
  • The investor isn't currently in computer games at all and isn't interested in stealing the credit for anything. They mostly see giving Ascent a better chance at credibility in the press as a way of de-risking their investment in the next game, and they're interested in a re-launch because they felt the Ascent they saw was high enough quality to invest a little money into. This is me being 100% open and honest with you.
  • The Unity update introducing bugs is guaranteed to happen. I will personally test every feature and interface of the game afterwards, but we can also expect to need a Beta for it - you guys always find things I don't spot. On the plus side, Unity have focused a lot more of their development in the past 12 months on stability and fixing their own bugs (which in turn are the cause of many Ascent bugs), and I've been happy with their latest build's stability. A lot moreso than for example 5.3 which loved to crash with passionate abandon.
  • The 'next game' is separate from Black Sky. Yes it's the medieval fantasy game I've been talking about for 20 years, yes some of you will get Beta invites when there's a coherent game for you to wreck, yes it's mind-blowingly exciting stuff and no I can't talk about it more yet.
  • I hear you on the rough edges. I've got my own list and it's got significant overlap with yours... and yours is the priority. I will want some newbie feedback too though. Retention of 'old' players matters a lot, but the newbie experience is probably the more critical issue.
  • PVE only players never need to worry about PVP as it is, so stop worrying about it. You will only need to concern yourself with it if you deliberately settle in the red zone.
  • Partnering up a small studio who have already done stuff will be a much bigger headache than you might envisage, and likely make things take more time to do not necessarily less. Even assuming they code for Unity in C# and their server-side stuff is somehow compatible with ours, integrating other peoples' code is always a headache, and nothing ever works exactly the way you want. To do the UI I literally sat with the UI guy most of the time he was coding our UI libraries, and we pair programmed integration the whole way. This is a hugely expensive and time consuming process.
  • With that in mind, I need more specific feedback if you want me to fix/improve something like combat. Is there a good thread on it you could link to? I've got my own ideas on the subject but by now you've experienced a lot more combat than I have by now.
  • As always, very leery about any idea where inner Stations appear in outer systems. The inner Stations represent entire planets' economies, not a station. You're talking billions of people. Perfectly willing to talk about things which stimulate demand in outer systems though. Luxury goods, bought with citizens' money? That's not a mega hard thing for me to implement - it would be mostly (if not totally) server-side and very data driven.
  • Also leery about a second start location. That's a lot of work because it's all manual build for me, how do we resolve the e-jump issue, and you're going to connect them ASAP anyway. And then what, the new start area has identical quests? Or I gotta make a whole new set of two kinds of newbie quests? Doesn't add up economically. We could open a wormhole to a new area though - that will create an exploration rush. A wormhole or maybe some kind of wacky experimental UNCA gate (shorter path to implement in game and fits with the lore since the gates are artificial wormholes)
  • In general please bear in mind I'm looking for 'low hanging fruit'. Stuff that isn't going to take a long time or cost a fortune in new artwork. I like the terraforming features because they're mostly data driven and all the client stuff is done. I like finishing the combat quests because in theory I've got all the art/voice for them already.
  • But hold onto your big ideas. If we actually get some traction this time, we'll have money to develop some of those big ideas.
...............................................................................................................................................
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Re: Ascent: Black Sky

Postby RAM » Tue May 02, 2017 12:26 pm

May I be the first to respond?

"Why, yes, RAM. When have we ever been able to shut you up?"

Good point.

This is exciting!
jam wrote:Hello there. As some of you know I've been in negotiations of one sort or another with investors for the past six months.


I feel your pain. Glad things are heading in a positive direction.

jam wrote:It's also proven that it can cover its own costs indefinitely, so even though "leaving it alone" is my least favourite option for going forward, it IS an option, and the odds of Ascent ever needing to be shut off are exactly zero.


No you can not. Be honest with yourself. You could never leave it alone, even if to just tinker with it. After five years of "marriage" it is part of you. AND, we are no where close to finding earth!!

I will make you a deal, the more you update, the more I write. I am so sure that will lock you in now. :lol:

jam wrote:I gave a demo of Ascent yesterday to our prospective investor, and the response was "this is good; we should re-launch this product". Obviously I agree, and some kind of 're-launch' has been on my mind for about the last year or so.


I wonder if "Black Sky" could take into consideration the time that has advanced since the collapse. Now with fleas working up a game time clock, it makes sense that there has been some advancement of the story. The additions of game design has impacted play greatly. If terraforming is completed, we will see even more.

jam wrote:Polish / Usability / Bug Fixes


I think Mooncrest laid out a really nice thread about this. Here are a few right of the top of my head.

1. Speed up Autopilot in heavily settled systems. While it might sound minor, players battle this every time they jump or gate in, which is often. Dozens of times a day. One great feature of the game is not having to wait for scenes to load once you jump in, but the Autopilot populating in the populated systems makes you wait until everything is loaded. If you try to click too soon, the list jumps and you go elsewhere often.

2. SM fix. Yea, I know you know. New players are often confused when they try to find a market that has been renamed, shut down, or not functioning because the owner is inactive, out of money or warehouse space.

3. I don't think you meant for this thread to be a place for bug reports, so no one else do this! I mean it! Stop. Don't even think about it.

4. Clean up NPC functions.

jam wrote:New engine + new visual effects system (looks great in my other prototypes so should have some impact on Ascent)


Every time Unity had to be updated, we had more and more unexpected issues. This scares me. One of the things about Ascent that I always liked was not so much the eye candy, but the simplicity of play. You were a master of that. The new UI, while visually nice, actually takes away from play time and experience. For us to haul our materials to market, we have to gate back and forth to the Inner9. Load times are deadly to moral.

jam wrote:Close out last few quests in the combat line


The draw of Ascent is not combat. I would suggest totally removing PvP from a possibility. I doubt it will ever happen, so why not just close that door officially. Let us care bears relax. Ascent is about coop, not conflict. Yea, it is fun to have a little we have to fight through, but colonizing 270 billion systems is a pretty big challenge.

Now back to your statement. Cleaning up PvE is good. Leaves the door open for the aliens you brought in with the Neptune Project.

jam wrote:Enable the remaining terraforming systems


Well, of course! This has been the promise from day one. Teasing us with terraformed settlements and taunting us with most of what is needed. Algae please!! Shall we start a chant? Algae, algae, algae ...

jam wrote:Nuclear weapons and their recreational use


There are a few who are interested in this. Davh has stockpiled thousands of tonnes of nuclear waste. As long as you add an asteroid buster with it, I am with you.

jam wrote:What's the ideal approach to a "re-launch"? Do we make a whole new product on Steam, give everyone who owns Ascent: The Space Game a key for Ascent: Black Sky? Or just a new/replacement bundle for the current product?


This is interesting. A key to "Black Sky" would be like a reboot. You always stated you would not. So would Black Sky and Ascent TSG run side by side? What would the purpose of a new start be that would be a benefit over patching the existing and using what has been done? Maybe I am not fully understanding your thoughts here.

jam wrote:What do we do with our "subscriptions"? I have had the feeling for a while that we lose more in sales than we gain in regular income from these, and that we'd be better served by a (not-stupid) system of in-game purchases... Obviously if we drop "premium" we have to in-game compensate people who have lifetime subs etc. Things to think about.


I was thinking just this a few days ago as I read through some reviews. I think it would be a good move. I think there are just a few who have lifetime subscriptions. Give them a planet or a SS in a system they specify. This would only be for those who were still around since the kickstarter. You would not have to do many, but it would allow us to expand the sphere of growth we are actually achieving.

Oh, now that is a great fundraiser idea. Allow us to do gofundme's and raise $500 or $1000 and have a SS placed in a system we specify at the beginning of the gofundme. Chat keeps us connected, not SS. Now that would be cool. Maybe make the prices the outer SS buy at 75% of the inner9 SS. This would still drive many to trade at the inner SS but allow groups/Guilds to raise capital to have a SS placed where they want once the funds have been raised. The galaxy has plenty of room for this. We will never run out of space to expand.

Okay, you asked for thoughts. Fleas and I can go off on tangents.

jam wrote:Are there other features you think should be in a new release? Bear in mind I will have limited time for this so vast new stuff is probably going to be out of the picture for now.


Remove subscription. Add in game buys(see above).

Finish the things players spend much of their time using and doing. Colony, Autopilot, and NPC bugs are shortening player retention. You know I would not call this out if I have not seen it many a time.

Add 2nd tier commodities to the Local Markets. This means the Local markets will buy the items we make from the base resources, like graphene, basic meds, and such. This will really make it a traders game.

Add in Soil Sample Probes and you got a winner.

Oh, and add in the name Mindcraft some how. This reminds people that is it like Minecraft, but a little different. It is a sandbox. People need to understand that and accept that going in. Ascent is not a thing to do, but a place to play and get dirty in the process. Okay, I am joking about the word Mindcraft, but I thought it was quite imaginative and I wanted to show off.

Lastly, I am very excited for you and I will support what you decide to do. I just hope you add me to the beta players of your new game. You ain't getting rid of me that easily. I pride myself of being that thorn in your flesh for over 4 years now. If I stop, I have nothing left to live for. Gone and forgotten, just like real life. This is a game. I don't want reality!! 8-)
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Re: Ascent: Black Sky

Postby darkwhistle » Tue May 02, 2017 2:00 pm

Allow me to ask some tough questions here.

Why do you think a "re-launch" is necessary? Just so your new investor can claim some credit for the eventual success of your game? I hope your new investor is a small studio, you need the resources a small studio can offer: debuggers, playtesters, on-line game masters (with the ability to help players that have managed to get the game into a stuck position during a mission), PVE "combat" system coders, etc. However, that alone doesn't justify a new studio elbowing their way into the success and achievement that you alone deserve. Before you "re-launch" the game as opposed to "re-pair" the game, you should carefully consider the effect that will have on the players who, by virtue of their cash and time and support on social media, have helped to carry you to this spot.

I have to say that at least part of the current level of success of your game are your loyal, friendly, and helpful players, who continually take it upon themselves to assist others who are just joining. I myself was the recipient of such support when I joined 9 (?) months ago, and I have to say the player base really enabled me to overlook the drawbacks of this game and continue to invest my time, and money, in continuing to play this game. Most of the helpful benevolence has come from your players' previous successes in meeting game (or personal) goals. Do you suppose a re-launch will somehow enhance this? I seriously doubt it. I just hope that a re-launch doesn't mortally wound the helpful and cooperative spirit of the existing player base during the course of the more aggressive scramble for resources that a re-launch would inevitably produce.

I remember early on, in my involvement with the game, reading one of your posts that said you didn't want your players' investment in time and money in the game to be taken away from them. The context of that remark was, of course, combat, but you should realize that is exactly what you are asking your loyal player base to endure now (actually it's much more than combat losses). Are you sure that "walking that position back" is the right course of action now? If you are considering wiping away the virtual properties that your players have built by investing real life money and time into your game (when your stated position was that you would not deprive the players of what they managed to build), then you should be thinking about how your proposed course of action will affect your players continuing willingness to make that investment. Or whether you should, or might be forced to by legal action, reimburse your players for depriving them of things they already purchased. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that this is a sandbox game. The whole point of the game is what the players might build into your universe by virtue of their investment in time and money. Now you propose to bulldoze all that to the ground. It is not merely the "lifetime subscribers" that would deserve re-compensation.

I personally have not invested hundreds or thousands of dollars into the game, though my time certainly seems worth that. I may be the only one expressing this feeling, but I guarantee you that your players with a more substantial investment than me are thinking along these lines too.

I took a chance, buying this product, as opposed to a more mainstream and finished and better supported product, because I believed that you wouldn't wash away the sandcastles I managed to build. I continued to invest time and money in the game, despite its limitations, primarily because the player base was friendly and helpful. I think both of those reasons to continue to invest in you and your game are jeopardized by your proposed re-launch.
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Re: Ascent: Black Sky

Postby Moneyman » Tue May 02, 2017 2:07 pm

:mrgreen: Luv your post to this thread. As always, your greatest game asset is Robert Martz ... bar anything else. :)

:idea: I've always wanted you to succeed ($$$) because your original Ascent concept is superior to anything else. ;)

:arrow: the player madd... has at lot of friends in EVE who'd jump to Ascent if you make the changes you've mentioned. :!:

:idea: Let the feeding, care and retention of new players be the focus rather than gate building. ;)

--- :roll: With a decent average of player population: gate building, materials acquisition, etc would so much simpler to do :?:

:arrow: Expand beyond a Mining and Trading means to get game $$$ and Taxes would be a useful game regulator. :shock:

:idea: The purpose of game taxes is new player funding and to discourage excess game property acquisition. :?:

--- :!: Established players should be thoughtful philanthropists not focused on getting more-and-more property. :?:

:?: As for game ideas, the forum is packed with them ... Maybe have fleas sort thru them for you :?:
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Re: Ascent: Black Sky

Postby Loke » Tue May 02, 2017 2:13 pm

RAM wrote:
jam wrote:What's the ideal approach to a "re-launch"? Do we make a whole new product on Steam, give everyone who owns Ascent: The Space Game a key for Ascent: Black Sky? Or just a new/replacement bundle for the current product?


This is interesting. A key to "Black Sky" would be like a reboot. You always stated you would not. So would Black Sky and Ascent TSG run side by side? What would the purpose of a new start be that would be a benefit over patching the existing and using what has been done? Maybe I am not fully understanding your thoughts here.


How about a new starting area for Black Sky in the exsisting Ascent univers? Like a new inner 9 with its own story of survival. Apollo sector cant have been the only survivers after the fall, rigth?
I think that would let us keep what we have worked so hard to build, and at the same time get a fresh new start where nothing is discovered or figured out yet. I think a new starting area should be far away and have no link to apollo sector, but maybe possible for us to connect them in the long run. Also avoiding splitting the community between keeping old and resetting.

Just my thougts on this...

Very exciting to hear news from you again Jam! :D
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Re: Ascent: Black Sky

Postby RAM » Tue May 02, 2017 3:45 pm

Loke wrote:I think a new starting area should be far away and have no link to apollo sector, but maybe possible for us to connect them in the long run.


I do like this. If we had a general direction, we could start building towards each other. Now that would be fun!!

I will wait for Jam to clarify, but I am not seeing a relaunch as a reset. I just wanted to bring it up to stop rumor mills and get some clarification.
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Re: Ascent: Black Sky

Postby davh62 » Tue May 02, 2017 4:14 pm

Jam many thanks for your post. We always knew you were busy behind the scenes working hard for the future of the game. I think you post is well timed as many of us were starting to feel frustrated for information as to the future of the game.

A re-launch is exactly the thing Ascent needs with as you say a new engine/finished features & a few new. I particularly like the nuclear weapons part! BOOMMMMM! :lol: The completion of algae & more combat quests would also be high on my own wish list. I'm not keen on the removal of PVP red zone as ram has suggested as this closes off a high population of potential buyers. That said the current combat format is lacking excitement of other space shooters. Maybe a new engine could help with this also.T2 commodities would be an awesome addition along with maybe some new that can be made from existing materials.

Bugs are pretty much covered already in a few thread compiled together in the forum here. I would like to add the un-planned gates that litter a few systems. These gates are the ones that were either never approved due to senators no longer playing or in some cases the confirmation mails never got received to get approval. I'm sure I or others will think of a few other things as time progresses.

With regard to subscriptions. If you think its causing more harm than good get rid of. Buyable DLC is something many of us crave for. You could credit the lifers so that they are able to get some stuff for free maybe? I'm uncomfortable with rams suggestion of giving them a SS in a system as this would give unfair advantage, unless the rest of the player base were able to purchase build their own.

Anyway just a few brief thoughts as I'm sure this thread will be "Busy" with a plethora of info for you to digest.
Last edited by davh62 on Tue May 02, 2017 6:52 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Ascent: Black Sky

Postby RAM » Tue May 02, 2017 4:48 pm

davh62 wrote:I particularly like the nuclear weapons part! BOOMMMMM!


I knew that was coming! :lol:

As we talked in chat, an idea developed. Well several, but I will just present one.

What if TF structures were dlc. We would have to complete the Neptune Project, then we could build OR buy the structures. It takes thousands of structures to terraform. This would be a good revenue stream and not take away from existing game dynamics or development.

What if each structure was $.50 or $1 each? A player could build their own, or buy, but likely some of both. With each planet taking thousands and up to 10s of thousands, this could be a good initial start to dlc.

Think of the cost of the LGD and SGD during kickstarter. The terraforming structures would cost much more and not cheapen the investment of kickstarters.

Okay, more than just one, remove cl 6-10 ships from the SS shipyards. Sell them. Free play to cl 5 ships. From there on you buy unless you get one from a player.

Both these allow for advancement without pay, but allow those who have more money than patience to pay.

I might suggest a pilot skill if you do that. Completing the existing quests could increment that. This allows a person to advance to the next ship class when certain things are done. This would slow a few from coming in and buying the cl 5-10 ships right away. They would have to complete the simple quests to advance. Leave the bowhead out of that for the same price it is. Those who want to support you for that amount get it like the rest already have.

Don't like my ideas? Not a problem. I got thousands more. :lol:

Lastly, commenting on dav's concern about the outer SS. They would be accessable to all in the area, not private. All gain from that addition. The networked gates are so big right now, that it makes sense that some SS would start forming further out.

Maybe selling the raw structure and it has to be supplied to be completed. Once completed, it is all open to everyone. Dav may put one in his system, but I can start a colony there and take advantage of it too.
I could gate to it and enjoy the access. With 270 billion stars, we need to spread the footprint a little. Hauling everything back to the Inner9 gets ... grindy. If they buy at a reduced price to the inner9, it will give advantage to players who use the inner9, but allow for further expansion that is needed. Just look at the wiki map. We got gates pretty far out right now.
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Re: Ascent: Black Sky

Postby darkwhistle » Tue May 02, 2017 6:01 pm

Jam, if you are hooking up with an investor, I'd suggest that you consider finding a small studio that already has developed some of the game components that Ascent currently is lacking (like guild systems or cooperative PVE missions, or DLC) or needs improvement (like debugging, or combat). If you do an honest assessment of the game and find a company that already has under their belt the components you'd like to incorporate or improve, that would result in a better quality game with a minimal investment, than finding a deep pocket that wants to add their stamp on to your success. Like Donald Trump puts his name on all "his" buildings; doesn't improve the building at all.

I'm a firm believer that micro transactions are the fastest way to ruin an otherwise good game. Subscriptions or memberships offer unlimited access for the player with a predictable income stream for you. That being said, I do think that downloadable content can be offered "pay to play" and is a far better business model than successive releases.

As I've said before, the game needs debugging. I love playing, and my enjoyment of the game is only marred by the frequent crashes to desktop, and the failure of some features to work as advertised (NPC pilots and water-bonus-bug). I look forward to that glorious day when the bugs are gone and we get to experience your past (and future) genius as you have intended it to be. I also hope that you continue to invite us to comment on the game and consider our suggestions.
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