Universe Sandbox ² 2017 Roadmap | Part II
What’s Coming After Alpha 20?
In Part I of our 2017 Roadmap, we talked about what we accomplished in 2016 and about our next stop, Alpha 20. We hope to release Alpha 20 in the next few months, and we’re very excited to introduce the new stellar evolution, the reworked user interface, the analytics, and a few other changes. And then it’s time to set our sights forward again to all that lies beyond Alpha 20.
Our new, dedicated VR developer, Jacob, has made good progress getting up to speed on our project and is already cranking out fixes and improvements for our VR experience. It’s been a while since we’ve been able to update the VR version, but we’re excited to bring it up to par again with the desktop version and introduce a few changes to the controls, interface, and introductory experience. If we’re lucky, this VR update may be paired with the Alpha 20 desktop update, but no promises.
Here’s what will hopefully be in our next VR update:
- Updated to Alpha 19
- Alpha 19 added some big simulation features which are currently missing in the VR version, like tidal forces, reworked explosions, new volatile effects like vaporized planets, more variety in supernovae, and greatly improved appearance and performance for particles and fragments. Alpha 19 was a huge update, and we’re excited to bring that to VR users.
- New tutorials
- One piece of feedback we see the most on our VR mode is that there’s not enough guidance, and the controls can be a little unwieldy. We’ve had some bigger ideas about redesigning the controls and interface, but these changes will be a longer project for another day. Until then, we’ve been tightening up the current controls, tweaking the interface, and adding some introductory experiences, all of which should help a lot in orienting new users and making for a smoother and more intuitive experience.
- Official Oculus Touch support
- Technically, anyone with an Oculus Rift and the Touch controllers can already play Universe Sandbox ² VR without any issue, the only noticeable difference is that the in-game controller models are Vive controllers instead of Touch. But this update will address this difference and add a few other small compatibility changes in order to officially support Touch. We also plan on adding Universe Sandbox ² VR to the official Oculus Store.
Then after this update, we’ll be looking at bigger design changes, like adding more interactive tools and accompanying custom controller models, to make the VR experience even more impressive and compelling. Below is a screenshot of some concept art for what a planet gun might look like in VR, designed by Nikita Replyanski. Please note that this is very early concept art and does not necessarily reflect what will be in Universe Sandbox ².
Alpha 21 & Beyond
This is where our list of future improvements and features becomes a little less concerned with order and time. We can’t say with much certainty which will be arriving first, or which will be bundled in this update or that update. But we can say with a lot of certainty that we’re very excited for all of these changes, and we believe each will add a new element to the Universe Sandbox ² experience. Many of these are big projects, but as mentioned in Part I of our roadmap, we hope to keep these projects less intertwined than in the past. This will hopefully allow us to roll out these changes as they’re individually ready and stick to a more frequent and regular release schedule. Please note that none of the following are guaranteed to happen in 2017, but we should see a number of them this year.
More Likely to Arrive First
- New Native (Better, Faster, Stronger Physics)
- Thomas, our lead physics developer, is once again revamping the physics system in Universe Sandbox ². You can expect better overall performance, faster simulations, and greater accuracy.
- Second Stage of Planetary Grids/Detail/Automata
- As mentioned in Part I, this isn’t a single feature, but rather a system that will open up the doors for a bunch of features that will make planets visually more detailed and responsive to interactions. The first stage was simply some movement behind the scenes, but this second stage will introduce some visible changes for users.
- This system works by increasing the spatial resolution of data. Instead of having one point of data for an object’s property, like temperature, there will now be a 2D grid of data. With temperature, for example, this means that collisions can impact values locally, so heat spreads from the impact site rather than just raising the overall temperature. This can also help with more accurate volatiles, tidal heating, tidal locking, and can also factor in elevation.
- New Sound Effects!
- We’re now working with the sound design team, A Shell in the Pit (whose credits include work on Fantastic Contraption, Parkitect, and many other great titles) to produce brand new sound effects for Universe Sandbox ². First on the list will likely be collision sound effects and user interface sounds. It’s quite the design challenge, as they’ll have to account for things like changes in the time step and sounds for which there is no real-world equivalent… what exactly should a pulsar sound like?
- We know that galaxies in Universe Sandbox ² could use some love, and we plan to give them the love they deserve soon. Their overall appearance will get an overhaul, and they’ll no longer resemble jumbled, generic galaxies.
A pulsar in Universe Sandbox ².
More Likely to Arrive Later
- Total Body Fragmentation
- Pretty self-explanatory: with this new system, bodies will completely fragment when the force of a collision is strong enough. This should be most apparent when two equally sized bodies collide, as they should completely fragment apart instead of one “eating” the other, which currently happens. Our physics developer will begin work on this again after finishing the New Native described above.
- Third Stage of Planetary Grids/Detail/Automata
- Heat transfer between planetary layers? Life simulation? Maybe! We don’t have an exact plan for where this system will take us after stage two, but we’re excited to find out.
- Mobile Version
- Sure it’s cool playing Universe Sandbox ² at your desk, but what if you could simulate the universe on your phone that you just pulled out of your pocket? And then with a tap of your finger you send a black hole careening past the sun, putting our whole solar system in galactic jeopardy? All while waiting for the bus to arrive? Yeah that sounds pretty cool, too. And with the processing power of modern phones and tablets, it’s not as far-fetched as you may think. In fact, we already have a version up and running on some of our phones. There’s still a lot of work to do on optimizing for performance and controls, but we’re making good progress.
- Steam Workshop & Custom Models
- Sharing is caring. Of course, your carefully crafted custom solar system still exists even if you’re the only one looking at it, but wouldn’t it be more fun to share it with thousands of other Universe Sandbox ² fans? You can already manually share these files, but we want to support seamless sharing and browsing of custom simulations and bodies using Steam Workshop. Combine this with support for importing your own models and suddenly you have access to whatever planets, stars, and spaceships our passionate and talented community dreams of.
- Rigid Body Collision System
- If you’ve ever collided a bowling ball with some dice in Universe Sandbox ², you know that they just merge with each other, and if you’ve ever seen these collide in real life, you know that’s not entirely realistic behavior. That’s why our new physics developer, Rahul, is working on the solution to this exact problem. Then it’s onto other areas of rigid body physics, like constraints, stacking, and collapse, which paves the way for space megastructures and even pilotable spaceships.
- Universe Sandbox ² isn’t designed as planetarium software, but we agree that being able to view constellations can be fun and educational, especially when paired with a sandbox environment. It’s an often requested feature that hasn’t made its way over yet from Universe Sandbox Legacy, but we plan to devote some time to this for a future update.
- Atmospheric Scattering
- Sunrises and sunsets are universally loved, whether your planet orbits one star or five. Wouldn’t it be great to see them in Universe Sandbox ² when standing on the surface of your planet? This is where something called atmospheric scattering comes in. We teased this a long time ago with a demo video, but it only existed as a project separate from Universe Sandbox ². We still plan to implement this eventually, as it certainly adds a small but dramatic touch to the surface view.
Jupiter orbiting Wolf 359 in Universe Sandbox ².
And Then Even Later…
- Yes, we mentioned “pilotable spaceships” above, but remember that rigid body physics are only a step toward these and they are still a long way off. Doesn’t mean we’re not completely in love with the idea and already looking forward to the possibility!
- Space Mega Structures
- Using physics-based space tethers as the idea behind the basic building block, these structures can come in many pre-defined shapes and sizes, and eventually support custom building. Think space elevators, Dyson spheres, and ring worlds. Then just attach a ridiculously overpowered laser, and you’ve got yourself a DIY Death Star. There’s still a lot to do to get these running smoothly in a simulation, but the above-mentioned work on rigid body physics will help us get there.
- Procedurally Generated Planetary Surfaces
- Users often tell us they want to see more details when entering surface cam (select a body and press “C” to enter surface cam). Once implemented, this will be a great answer to that request. Instead of relying on a small number of hand-crafted textures, planetary surfaces could instead be procedurally, randomly generated, resulting in an endless variety of surfaces with a dynamic range of detail. This is just in the idea phase right now; we have not begun work on it yet, and it won’t be a quick project. But we know that it could add another level of immersion and realism to Universe Sandbox ² and be a fan-favorite.
Excited? As we’ve said many times, so are we. Thank you for your never-ending support, and thank you for your patience as we continue to build the universe.