Months ago in our 10th Anniversary news post, we hinted at an "NX project". Since then, we have seen a few rumors on the forums, Tunngle, and Teamspeak. The team’s inboxes have received many requests asking us to detail what this mysterious thing is. Today we finally unveil the NX project: We are building our own warp-capable space ship.
Well, not quite. In past years, we did what we could to improve Armada II, but the technical platform itself is showing its age. Despite this seemingly dire route, we gathered a great deal of extremely valuable experience, both about gameplay and programming. We’ve known for some time now that we would eventually have to look for an alternative.
Looking for alternatives...
As enthusiastic real time strategy gamers, we’ve played various great games with modding capabilities that could offer a new home for Fleet Operations. However we noticed rather quickly that these would have required us to drastically change gameplay or would have resulted in replacing the Armada II brick-walls with new ones. Not to mention that we would establish the same dependency on a single game which we have right now - including that uncertain future of availability.
Moving on to the next obvious option, in our search through a multitude of open-source and commercial game engines we discovered that none really fit our needs. From a technical point of view, an RTS is a very unique and challenging task. This is especially true once you add "multiplayer" into the mix of requirements.
While transferring Fleet Operations to a new game or modifying a new game engine offered two possibilities, there was an obvious third option. Why not write our own game engine?
We didn't even dare dream of that, as that would be an incredibly challenging and complex thing to do. While Fleet Operations is still a hobby, we’ve always tried to have our game not just be a game modification. However, developing a mod is light years away (without warp drive) from programming a whole game from scratch. Scratch-built engines are ambitious tasks where many in the past have failed, given up on or just vanished. “Let’s do this!“ is often the last sign of a project you’ll ever see, for a reason. It is not something you should ever decide to do light-hearted.
So, as with the two former options, this third choice was set aside for quite some time… Note the past-tense here!
An unexpected solution
In 2012 in an increased effort to once again find a solution to the decaying Armada platform, we met a group of talents straight from the games industry, who are writing their own game-engine - the ezEngine. These incredible people do not just have a lot of real industry experience, but also live close enough to us to get some real-life meetings running. Oh, and they like Star Trek! And our project! So much so that they have joined the Fleet Operations team. But I don't want to steal their thunder, as they will definitely want to introduce themselves as development continues.
Since early 2013 we have built the very fundamentals of an RTS engine on top of the solid ezEngine foundation. Both projects will be developed in parallel, so we are expecting many interesting synergies. For us, the old Fleet Operations team, this means a dream come true. We will finally have a game-engine at hand, which doesn’t have to be crudely hacked to get around modding limitations and we won’t have to creatively exploit set-in-stone game mechanics. We now have every single part - from rendering, to exotic buff systems - under our control. For the ezEngine crew, Fleet Operations will serve as both a little motivator - it’s always good to have a real project, even non-commercial, that uses your engine - and as a test bed.
So far we have made incredible progress that has surpassed the team’s expectations. When we began developing NX, we made a list of potential show stoppers - issues we would have to find solutions for to get NX to be a properly working game. Once again, this list included the crucial multiplayer part. We’ve solutions in the works for all of these already. Our focus now is building the playable parts of the game engine: the things that you, as players, interact with directly. That means, for instance, ships moving around, blowing each other up with badass las - I mean diplomacy with phasers! Again, we’re making excellent progress here.
Our roots are in the Star Trek Armada franchise. We still remember the fun we had with Armada I when it came out. We now feel the same working on NX. Fleet Operations will always be developed in that spirit.
Where would we be today if Armada didn’t offer modding? It was one of the features that made Armada a great game for us. However, Fleet Operations was only one of many modifications that were released for Armada. With NX one big focus is to offer a similarly powerful interface as Armada did - and beyond.
But what does this mean for you, our dear community? For starters, the next versions of Fleet Operations will no longer require Armada II to play. Fleet Operations will, as always, remain completely free of charge and non-commercial.
What about Armada?
Now, what does that mean for the long awaited Version 4 of Fleet Operations - the one that was to run on our hybrid Armada II engine? Due to NX’s rapid progress and the difficulty of working on a defunct A2-FO engine, we are dedicating the team to working on NX in all respects. Yes, that means that we will not be releasing an intermediate Version 4, even though we had been working on that project for more than two years! Although we would have loved to release a complete Version 4, with only a few of the factions, this turned out to be more difficult than we had hoped. Creating brand new - but temporary – visual effects, dozens of complicated workarounds, and a combination of difficult to fix out of syncs made it clear that moving directly to NX would be the best for the health of the community and of course for our own sanity. So what happens to the partially completed Version 4? We will continue to test gameplay ideas and mechanics on the platform, as a test bed for integrating Version 4 gameplay into NX. In the weeks and months ahead, you can also expect more detailed news posts regarding this gameplay.
So, before this newspost gets too long: We are really proud of you, all of you and those that stuck with us for so long! We started as a small mod and now we are rapidly building toward a real stand-alone game. In the times to come, we will let you participate in development as much as we can. Some news posts might get a bit more technical, as we plan to shed some light on the coding we do. We will definitely talk a lot about the new Game Mechanics we are going to implement. We will show off models and graphics for new rendering systems, rather than the ancient (and quite ugly!) Armada II rendering, which could never really live up to the material Zeich produces!
As our NX-forging continues, we also want to include all of you in development by collecting ideas for weapons or new spaceship designs. Even the crazy ones you didn’t dare to write down due to Armada’s limitations!
These are amazing times for us and we hope to share our energy and motivation with all of you!