Stable Orbit: It’s Lonely Out In Space Game Development

If you have been following the development process of Stable Orbit over on Jim’s Blog you probably already know that the latest update for the game, Blackout, has experienced some technical hitches. Off of the back of this, we caught up with Jim and asked him a few questions about developing Stable Orbit and the challenges you face when developing a game by yourself.

What can we expect from the Stable Orbit Steam Beta Branch?

A look into the bleeding edge of space game development, of course!

Seriously, the beta branch will be the first place where you can experience the features that are coming to “Zenith”, or Stable Orbit 1.0. Since I’m stepping away from doing polished releases, playing the beta branch will most likely be an experience that is a bit more rough and edgy – expect bugs and placeholder art!

How easy is it to add a new feature to a game like stable orbit? Are there any knock on effects the game experiences?

It’s definitely not easy. First of all, the new feature itself needs to be fun. Even if I have a very clear idea of what the feature will be, there is often a lot of iteration needed before a feature feels right for the game.

Then, once I have the feature working well in isolation, there is a varying amount of work involved in making sure that the new feature interacts with all the other parts of the game as intended. Often times there will be a number of bugs in the existing code that only come to light once you start using it in a slightly different way. And then, sometimes, unintended interactions happen that are really fun. Those are actually the worse for me as a developer, because when they happen I need to dive in until I fully understand why they happen, so that I can keep them when I add the next new feature.

How challenging has developing Stable Orbit by yourself been?

The funny thing is that doing everything by myself has been both incredibly easy and very tough. In many ways, working alone is easier because there’s none of the endless discussions that can happen in teams where everyone is passionate about what they are making, but also has slightly different and sometimes clashing points of view. Of course, the flipside is there is no one else you can rely on. If five more things need to happen before you can ship, you have to take care of all of those things. Still, I really like being in a position where I can fully decide how the game works out in the end.

Is there anything new you have learnt about game development whilst making Stable Orbit?

Enough to fill a book. Every game project I have worked on has been a learning experience – there’s probably something very wrong with the project if you aren’t learning anything new as a developer. On Stable Orbit, I have had to wear every hat there is to wear when it comes to turning a game idea into a reality. A lot of that, especially in the business area, was all new for me. So definitely yes, lots learned. And plenty of mistakes left to make on the next project.

Will skipping the two planned updates Blackout and Umbilical have an impact on what Stable Orbit 1.0 will look like?

I suspect it will have an impact. While I still intend to deliver on all the features we’ve promised in our public roadmap, the order in which the remaining features are developed and how people will be able to experience and comment on those change because Blackout and Umbilical will not be released as such. Personally, I believe the change will be for the best, since I was really spending too much time on making the releases work as separate products – which is how we’ve been treating Stable Orbit releases since the beginning.

Not having to worry about doing these releases will free up time to be more experimental with the remaining features, which I hope will result in an overall better experience at the end.

Can you share a bit more detail about your roadmap to 1.0?

So the major items still coming to Stable Orbit are orbital management, disasters and events – which is what I am currently working on. Additionally, there will be more advanced truss structures, meaning you’ll get larger trusses and a gimbal module to allow for the construction of stations with parts that rotate to generate artificial gravity. A bit further down the line are the pressurized mechanic (meaning crew members will no longer magically transport between pressurized modules that aren’t connected), a dynamic weather systems and a sandbox mode. Once all of those are done and dusted, I’ll slap a nice one-point-o sticker on the whole thing and send it out into the world.

Stable Orbit is currently in early access. you can grab the game from the Green man Gaming store right now.