Anyhow, I've gotten a few key things in place over the past few weeks. First, I fixed the whole VAR/VBO issue, which just means that the next demo will run fine on ATI (will still take some debugging but the major issue has been solved). I've been putting it off for a long time and like, it only took about an hour to fix. Yessh.
I also made some incredible gains in physics. It still isn't perfect, but buildings are much more solid. I did it all with contact normals and a little reorganization effort. Bottom line is, now you can park your ship no problem on a building, and things just generally feel like they are really there. Still a problem that you can sometimes fall through a roof, I need to solve this.
Finally, I fixed part of the autogen for buildings. There is still a bug which makes one wall have a bad looking texture, but other than that, the buildings are fine. This just means there aren't any deficient things, like polygons that turn inside out or whatnot, so the buildings look quite sane. It wasn't a hard change but as always geometry loves to be trickier than it first seems.
What else? Oh yes, I also updated the HUD. Much better now, I hope, clearer and less chaotic layout. THere is still work to be done, but damn; this is tedious. VAR->VBO: 1 hour. Physics: 6 hours. Building Autogen: 8 or 10 hours. HUD GUI stuff: 4 days!!!
Yikes. So now I'm pretty much spent programmer-wise, which is fine. I think if I do any more UI programming, I will melt. That stuff is tedious. It doesn't matter what anybody says, it is tedious. Fine tools help (which I don't really have) but the real reason it is tedious isn't so much that, I think, as it is sometimes just /tricky/ to finally solve the design issues. For more on this see: confusing corporate/news/professional/etc. webpages scattered all over the internet. It's not that the designers of those pages suck. It's just hard. In the end I solved my problems partly by showing less information tot he player; this is a great option and easy to forget sometimes, esp if you have a cool idea. The one part of information that I found I needed to throw away was an icon to say if the ship was closing/stopped/escaping/warping. This was just a little icon to give you an idea what the target you were chasing was doing. In the end I nixed it completely, even though it was moderately useful.
I have to remember at this moment not to be too much of a perfectionist. To be sure, there are many distracting glitches left that need to be fixed; but the game will surely end up less-than-perfect. I have to work in the coming months to make sure it doesn't end up less-than-fun.
One more design change that I'm about to implement. XP will be unified once again. I had this idea to make XP only usable in the system you gained it in, and it's not terrible I guess but in the end, it feels very odd, and it's a bit frustrating too since you sometimes gain XP in a system you don't want to spend it in. Not every system is created equally, not by far; and this is okay. There /should/ be centeres of commerce, questing, or what have you and so it actually weakens things if you require that the player spend XP too locally, because more remote locations which the player may want to explore become less useful. Since explore is the primary fun factor from day 1, that's a potentially huge mistake. The player should just gain XP as they fly around and kill things.
There is a gem bounty system in place however which actually works well, and has similar effect of encouraging the player to fight more difficult monsters. Basically, as you collect gems, you can only sell them at the system you gained them in; or nearly. Every gem you get from killing a monster /will/ have a place to sell it. These bounty offices are located in city halls, so you are never far from one. When you reach a city hall, you simply cash in your bounty. Tax rate should figure into this somehow.
What's next? I'm not sure. As far as I can see, some kind of event system to engage the player. It will center around the existing quest system, and build on that. So basically, I want to take the questing aspect which is right now active for the player (i.e., the player must go out and find quests) and make it passive for them. So they don't actually have to do much, quests will "happen" to them. This will at first look like some kind of hero's guild maybe I don't know. I do know I want it somehow to relate to reputation-- whatever that will end up meaning. You should gain a reputation for doing quests.
I need to bring the mining companies more into play. Right now, there isn't much of an incentive to do cargo-carrying, that I can see. I feel like cargo-carrying should be both an alternative to killing monsters for gems, and also a step up. In my current game I just got a cargo ship and am going to see how that shakes up.