Side C progress report: It's in too deep!

Greetings surveyors!

Several months ago I revealed the first look at Side C. Today I’m sharing with you my progress on Side C and the challenges with delivering the next preview build. My hope was to ship it next week, but that’s no longer feasible for reasons I’ll outline. Instead it’s likely going to be another month or two before it’s ready to enjoy. I’m sorry for the delay, but I hope this update fuels your excitement like mine in the meantime.

Creating a faithful remake

With the release of Side C, I intend to fulfil my promise to faithfully remake my game S.E.A.. Initially created for No Video Jam, it was an ambitious attempt to create a procedurally-generated ocean planet that could be accessibly explored in all three dimensions. Following the jam, it received a year of regular updates that more fully developed its world. However, its scope surpassed the early technical choices made during the jam, pressing me to reenvision it and E.X.O. as components of Periphery Synthetic EP.

I believe that a faithful remake should fully embrace what makes it unique within the Alpha Periphery system. Beneath a dynamic ocean surface—tormented by towering tidal waves—lies an expansive topography peppered with winding underwater caves and submerged treasures to collect. The result is the ultimate and intended experience of this water world—complete with a handful of features from its sunken roadmap.

Returning features

The following features are returning from S.E.A. in the Side C release:

  • Procedurally-generated ocean surface
  • Daylight cycle with dynamic sights and sounds
  • Massive tidal waves to surf at noon and midnight
  • Swimming, diving, and underwater movement
  • Seamless transitions between the surface and floor
  • Procedurally-generated seafloor with various biomes
  • Terrain sonification in three dimensions
  • Procedurally-generated caves with branching paths
  • Cave sights and sounds which are painted as they are explored

The new world has also been integrated with the EP’s core systems—many of which were inspired by S.E.A. itself:

  • Collectible materials, caches, and artifacts
  • Insights gained from interacting with the world in various ways
  • Discoverable locations to fast travel between
  • Portals connecting the worlds of Alpha Periphery
  • Terrain sonification in two dimensions
  • Presets for the splash screens

Overall the scope of the new world is absolutely tremendous, nearly doubling the size of the EP. Getting here in just six months has been a hugely satisfying personal achievement. (In comparison, the original took me nearly 15 months for it to reach a similar state, and it never received those alien structures I promised.) Yet, that’s not everything coming in the new release!

New features

In addition to the new world, the EP is receiving a handful of new features:

  • Attractors system. A new system has been added to automatically collect nearby materials. It has two upgradable subsystems which improve its collection radius and speed. This required a new sound and changes to various systems.
  • Ballasts system. A new system has been added to decrease the travel time between the ocean surface and floor. It has one upgradable subsystem which improves its overall efficiency. This was integrated within the underwater movement model and has unique audio and haptics.
  • Distillery system. A new system has been added to automatically collect materials from the surrounding medium. It has two upgradable subsystems. One improves its overall efficiency, and the other is a fetch quest which expands the types of materials it can distill. Every area provides alternative ways to collect materials usually found on other planets. I’m most excited about how this influenced the economy of Side C’s upgrades, which all require a common material that can be distilled from its ocean and atmosphere. This was an entirely new system which also required a new sound.
  • Axes subsystem. The wheels system has received a new subsystem which allows pilots to strafe in wheeled mode. This required changes to the movement model, but was relatively simple to implement.
  • Mulligans subsystem. The pneumatics system has received a new subsystem which allows pilots to double-, triple-, and quadruple-jump in bipedal mode. It can also fire in the opposite direction to launch pilots downward. This required new sounds and various changes to the movement model.
  • Little things. This release has a very meaty change log. It includes the ability to use the portals on Alpha Periphery B through the sand, substantial graphical and audio changes, and a handful of smaller fixes.

It’s astonishing how these new features completely change the EP! By further diversifying the movement modes, and introducing alternative ways to collect materials, pilots have more choices in how they spend their time in Alpha Periphery. It’s a place that continually gives me delight the more that I’m in it.

Outstanding challenges

Along the way I’ve accumulated a wealth of things that simply need more work. I’ve also dealt with gigantic life changes and immense professional burnout. Seriously! this 10-day camping trip I have coming up could not come sooner.

These items need to be addressed before the preview build is ready:

  • Underwater music. Although the surface came quickly and sounds delightful, I’ve been facing a creative block with how to approach the underwater music faithfully without resorting to self-plagiarism. It’s also technically complex in how it represents changes in elevation and three unique environment types.
  • Sound effects. The sound effects for the Attractors, Distillery, and Mulligans are not yet complete. It’s been difficult to find the identity for these sounds and mix them properly.
  • Perception ledes. Like the Side B preview, it’s important for me to include the first sentence for each of the 16 new perceptions. I’m experiencing some analysis paralysis in finalizing the overall narrative and how it should unfold organically.
  • Win state. Once the pilot has scanned all of the explorable worlds, they will receive a notification that their expedition is complete. It’s a small yet meaningful bit of flavor.

Similarly, these items need to be addressed before the official Steam release:

  • Perception text. The full release will add the full text for the 32 perceptions added in the Side B and Side C previews. These average about 60 words per piece, each vividly filled with thesaurus words and research to support them. It usually takes an hour to sketch one out, and several more to edit, burning me out rather quickly.
  • Demo compatibility. There is currently a bug which can result in progress loss. If the demo is run on a device already having a save for the full version, pilots will be teleported to Alpha Periphery B and their progress in other areas is erased. This is due to how they share a common save location to support carrying progress from the demo into the full version. This requires changes to the systems which handle save versioning and upgrading saves between different versions.
  • Optimizations. The entire project needs an optimization pass. For example, when graphics are enabled, the terrain is generated in real-time and placed into various data structures, to pass to the graphics shaders each frame. Because I prioritize code readability over premature optimization, this leads to a lot of unnecessary garbage collection, resulting in a hefty frame drop nearly every second. I could have entire code paths to rewrite to keep the heap in a friendlier state.

Coming soon

Overall the EP is in its best place yet. The new world is joyful and hypnotizing, and everything else complements what’s already there. It just needs more time to fully meet my intergalactic expectations.

I wish I could have ended this with a trailer or screenshot, but it’s so difficult to capture the actual experience. There’s surfing, cave exploration, and ever-changing psychedelic visuals and systems music—all packaged in a sandbox that’s freely explored at your own pace. So I’d rather give it to you as soon as I can manage it.

Thanks for playing! ✌

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I for one am happy to wait, and the last thing I want is for you to get burned out. Not just because I want the game to be as good as it can be, but just on a personal level too. I am excited to see the new changes yes, but I'm no longer a 12-year-old gamer who can't wait. :)