What Are We Working On? | Alpha 17 & Beyond
Our past few updates have been relatively minor releases. They’ve focused on fixing bugs and stability issues, and aside from a few minor features, haven’t introduced anything new. Fixing these issues is extremely important, but for those users who hadn’t experienced any problems, these updates weren’t the most exciting.
But now we’re getting back up to speed after some good time off post-Steam release. Alpha 17 will be the first major release since Alpha 16 at the end of August, and we’re excited to begin showing off some of the bigger projects we’ve been working on.
At this time we can’t say for sure which features will make it into Alpha 17. Some will be implemented only in their early stages, and others will likely have to wait until later updates. These disclaimers aside, here are a few of the things which you can look forward to in Alpha 17 and beyond:
1. Rewritten Stellar Evolution & Classification
Previously there were 5 star types in Universe Sandbox ². Now, with the rewrite, there will be 16. The improved stellar evolution model is now primarily a function of metallicity, and will work for types outside of main-sequence stars.
The result will be more dynamic and accurate properties for stars, as well as smoother transitions from type to type. The model also will now account for mass loss from solar winds. It may take a bit of time to fully incorporate all of the changes, but now that Jenn has added in these new, robust evolution models, many new possibilities await.
2. More Planetary Details
Random planets in Universe Sandbox ² are going to be visually more detailed and responsive to interactions, all part a project which we are internally calling “automata.”
In the beginning, this will work alongside our climate component to increase the spatial resolution. That is, instead of having one point of data for an object’s property, like temperature, there will now be a 2D grid of data. In the example of temperature, this means that collisions can impact values locally, so heat spreads from the impact site rather than just raising the overall temperature. In turn, this will make for much more dynamic visuals.
This higher resolution of data will also apply to elevation, influencing water levels, pressure, and material states. Further down the line this could open up doors for better surface deformation and shaping, and even set up the groundwork for basic life evolution. It’s a very exciting project, but also highly experimental: it’ll be a work-in-progress for some time to come, even when it first shows up in an update, and we can’t say for sure what it’ll eventually be able to do.
3. Better Star Glows & Rendering
This one mostly speaks for itself. Star glows and rendering are going to look a whole lot better, with smoother fading and fewer clipping issues. Georg hopes to eventually add a little coronal animation, too.
4. Back-End Changes to the User Interface
Chris is busy porting over the current custom user interface to use Unity’s user interface system. At first this may fall into the category of “Not Too Exciting For Most Users,” as it won’t involve any design changes, but this rewrite of the user interface is going to make possible a handful of things for Universe Sandbox ² further down the line. Essentially, it’s future-proofing.
The biggest advantage of this is the support for multiple character sets and a scalable interface. This translates into support for languages using non-Roman characters, and an interface that works on non-standard resolutions, such as 4k or mobile. And while a mobile version of Universe Sandbox ² is not coming any time soon, should we eventually decide to take that path, this change will make it all the more feasible. Feel free to also use this as evidence that we are not planning on wrapping up development in the near future.
5. Native Physics Code
Alpha 15 introduced Thomas’s rewrite of the physics component in Universe Sandbox ², which made everything run a whole lot faster. That was only the first part. This second part is implemented as native code, versus the previously implemented managed code. Without getting too technical, this essentially removes a step from the process, making it run a bit faster. There will be more performance improvements to come after native implementation, but this one is a big step.
After all of this is firmly in place, then it’s time for VR… But that’s a blog post for another day.
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