Universe Sandbox ² 2016 Roadmap
Happy New Year! 2015 was an exciting year for us. A few highlights: Universe Sandbox ² got a whole lot faster thanks to multiple physics refactorings, it was made a lot prettier thanks to a new user interface and a slew of eye candy upgrades, and we released on Steam Early Access with extremely positive reviews which haven’t stopped coming in.
The good news is that we don’t plan on slowing down. The following is a list of our hopes for Universe Sandbox ² in 2016.
It’s not necessarily a roadmap in the sense that we’ll get to these features in this order. But these are some of the big landmarks we are very excited to explore as we continue development through 2016 and beyond.
More Planetary Details & Interactions
Planets in Universe Sandbox ² will be visually more detailed and responsive to interactions, all part of a project which we are internally calling “automata.”
This works by increasing the spatial resolution of data. 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 will eventually also factor in elevation, making possible more detailed surface deformation and a lot more. And along with the improved composition system mentioned below, this will form the groundwork for basic life simulation.
Oh, and there will also be lasers.
Improved Composition System
Currently we support four materials for a body’s composition: iron, silicate, water, and hydrogen. We’ve been discussing ways we can include additional materials to this list. We’d also like to improve the interactions between radii and compositions, as the results are sometimes a bit confusing right now. Another component we’ve discussed is atmospheric composition. This is a very tricky problem with no clear solution, but it’s often requested and we are working toward it.
a.k.a. The Feature No One Knew They Wanted Until They Had It
We’re not ready to give away too many details on this yet… but doesn’t “Space Megastructures” sound pretty cool? The answer is yes, they do sound pretty cool, because they are. Using physics based space tethers as the idea behind the basic building block, these structures can come in many shapes and sizes. We still have a lot of work to do on these, but you can start imagining things along the lines of space elevators, Dyson spheres, and ring worlds.
What more needs to be said? Internally we have basic support for this going already, but there’s still a lot of work to do in fine-tuning the experience of reaching out, grabbing the Moon, then hurling it toward Earth. Our initial efforts are directed at getting it to work with the upcoming Steam VR based HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift.
User Interface Rewrite
This is largely an under-the-hood rewrite, but it’s going to make it possible to scale the interface for larger and different-sized resolutions, and also allow for language localization down the road. Technically, we’re transitioning from our own internal system to the new native system in Unity (our 3D engine) that didn’t exist when we started on this project 4 years ago.
As mentioned above, the rewrite to the user interface will make it a lot easier for us to implement localization. Our next step, once we’re ready, is to start the crowd-sourced localization process so we can get Universe Sandbox ² running in as many languages as possible.
Stellar Evolution Rewrite
Universe Sandbox ² will support 16 evolutionary star types with the stellar evolution rewrite , versus the previous 5. The improved evolution model, based on these papers, is primarily a function of mass and age or metallicity, and will work for evolutionary 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, and be able to differentiate envelope from core. As a whole, this is also a stepping stone toward being able to illustrate stellar nucleosynthesis in Universe Sandbox ². We’ve hit a few snags in fully implementing this, but Jenn, our astrophysicist, has been making good, steady progress.
Total Body Fragmentation
This feature was partially implemented before, but was removed during the physics rewrite. Now we’re about ready to add it back in, and once we add some nice visual flair, this will make collisions and explosions even more epic and realistic as planets get completely broken apart.
We’ve been saying for a bit now that we’d like to give galaxies some love again, as they’ve been mostly overlooked recently while we work on other projects. Our plan includes completely reworking procedural galaxies, which tend to all look the same right now, and fixing a number of bugs which currently make galaxies a little difficult to interact with.
We often see requests from users that the view from the surface (press “C” when focused on a body) could be improved. We completely agree. One big step toward this is accounting for the atmosphere (if the planet has one), resulting in nice colored skies, sunrises, and sunsets, all products of atmospheric scattering. This will greatly increase the immersion when looking up from one of your planets.
Once we get the save/load mechanics even more solid, we plan to add in support for Steam Workshop. This will allow users to easily share saved simulations and objects with each other, which will be a very cool way of seeing what everyone is creating with Universe Sandbox ².
Steam Achievements are another common request for Universe Sandbox ². They can add a little incentive for exploring the simulation and trying things you wouldn’t normally try. Have any good ideas for Achievements? Let us know on the forum!
Expanded Climate Change Exploration
Our climate models for Earth and Mars have been successfully implemented in Universe Sandbox ² for a while. But we’d like to strengthen our focus on this component to further help educate users on one of the most pressing issues we face today as citizens of the Earth.
Again, another common request for Universe Sandbox ². We haven’t yet moved beyond discussing this as a possibility, but we are very interested in a mobile version. Universe Sandbox ² could work extremely well with touch commands, and a mobile version would greatly increase the amount of people who could get their hands on it. With constant improvements to mobile technology, and Unity’s tools for building mobile apps (the 3D engine we use), this could be a reality sooner than we think.
We’ve hired a dedicated tester whose job is to rigorously test Universe Sandbox ², helping us find and fix bugs as we continue development. We’re a small team, and the nature of a massive space sandbox means that there are an extraordinary amount of things to test. Our community has been super helpful to this end, but we’re happy to now have someone who’s devoted to this task and can help fill in the cracks.
The Future of Universe Sandbox ²
This roadmap may seem ambitious (and it is), but we’ve already gone pretty far into unexplored territory. We’re committed to making Universe Sandbox ² better and better as we continue to create something that’s never been done before. We hope you’re as excited as we are about the future.
Get instant access to Universe Sandbox ² on Steam Early Access: