Heat Signature: Sneaking in Space
It may seem lonely. A small ship drifting through space. The camera pulls out and the vast nothingness surrounds your meager vehicle, placing you as a speck amongst the stars. But you are not lonely, you haven’t time for such things. You speed through space, picking up a ship on your sensors. You sneak on board, you gather information, you have your target. You have their heat signature. You move from ship to ship, gathering new targets and missions. Your greed is voracious, your taste for blood unquenchable.
Looking for the my next target I race across the sector to permanently silence my quarry. The intel I gleaned from the last ship said she was on the research vessel Ossard. Blinded by my lust for vengeance, I flew my ship through the sensor fields of a dreadnaught class Purple faction warship. It engaged and pursued me immediately, launching its full payload at my scout ship. Perhaps it was because I had recently stolen some Purple faction secrets to their new plans for a network of spy satellites. Changing course to avoid the warship I wasted precious time. Time I needed for pursuing the Ossard. After outpacing the dreadnaught, I set course for my prey as it was still in range. I came in hot, too hot. While I avoided their forward sensors, they easily found my heat signature and fired. The Ossard’s weapon systems easily outclassed my own. My ship was destroyed. As I spin through the emptiness of space, oxygen levels nearly depleted, many things scream through my mind. Regret is not one of them.
Heat signature trails
I was pleased that even in it’s early state of development that Heat Signature wiggles into that dark, creative spot that allows for this sort of player generated exposition. However, Francis’s Gunpoint and Floating Point also hone in on a very visceral, simple style that makes the player comfortable to melt into the gameplay and their respective, yet very different themes. Considering this, it shouldn’t be too terribly shocking that Francis was able to pack in at least a modicum of emotion. It could be the fact that being sneaky is just exhilarating. It excites emotions and incites the player to self narrate and to plan. Francis mentions in an intro video for the Global Stealth Jam that stealth games are, “ a smarter way for the player to gain influence on that situation.” Stealth games are more likely to move the player into a more vulnerable, accessible place. “In stealth games they focus on how you would actually approach being horribly outnumbered and outgunned, which is that you would fucking hide. You can’t take on that many people, it doesn’t make any sense,” Francis says in the Global Stealth Jam video. The conceit of the lone hero is lessened when the game doesn’t “respect the danger.” The world of Heat Signature is dangerous and filled with factions with death-bringing ships, acknowledging that would behoove you.
That's a big ship
Heat Signature made me cackle with joy as I zipped across space with a gorgeous little vapor trail spewing from my ship. I quickly figured out that I could dock with enemy vessels. I quickly learned that I should probably take cover once inside the ship. I also learned quickly that I should not take down the turret operators so I can use them later - when I realized that I could steal any ship I became a menace of the quadrant. That quickly ended when my ship was blasted into pieces. I say my ship. I mean their ship. I could still run to my docked vessel and flee the scene, leaving the fractured ship to spin and twist in hollow, cold space.
In a recent blog post on his development and sundry blog, www.pentadact.com, Francis talks about developing Heat Signature to see if the mechanics of the game “would be as fun as they seemed in my head, so I built all its systems in the cheapest, fastest, simplest possible way.” You can see the results of this “slapdash” style of design that spans five months in a two minute time lapse video. Heat Signature blooms from crude pixel transports to sophisticated procedural hallways by the end.
Many questions and core parts of Heat Signature are still being considered. The “who are you and what are you trying to do” part of the game has changed a fair bit since the onset of development. Not all players carry a narrative ready to overlay on a pre-alpha build. Francis talks further about the mission/class structure, “now I’m thinking that you’ll choose a class at the start, then be given a series of shorter missions of that type, forever. Assassins will be assigned to kill specific crewmembers on specific ships. Thieves to steal particular bits of tech from particular ships. Interceptors neutralise hostile ships. Exfiltrators capture and retrieve their targets alive. And you do as many of these missions as you can without dying.” In addition to this system, guards will respond to alarms and gunshots, urging stealth and melee. There is also plans for the placement of stationary space stations across the galaxy, each garrisoned by a different faction. These stations would distribute missions and will possibly be affected by the expansion and destruction of opposing factions in relation to missions the player undertakes.
For now, I can mesmerize myself with Floating Point, as Heat Signature has a frown producing release date of “when it is ready.” Until that time comes, the galaxy is allowed to thrive, my wrath will be postponed. But not canceled.
Day 30 | Tom Francis