Dev Blog 98: Airport CEO enters 2018

January 9, 2018

¡Hola, director de aeropuerto! Happy holidays and happy new year! It’s Monday the 8th of January 2018 and it’s time for the weekly devlog to finally be revived after a few weeks hiatus. Over the holidays we’ve had some downtime with an overall lowered production rate and even a few days where no work was done at all. This has been very, very good and relaxing for us and we now feel re-energized and super excited to get back to the office, to get back to work and to get back to developing and evolving Airport CEO to become the best airport tycoon game yet. However, due to the short break and overall lowered production during these past days this will inevitably be a shorter devlog where we will focus on briefly discussing what’s up ahead for 2018 in the near distance. Well, at least in terms of images, we tried to write it a bit shorter but you know how it goes… let’s get into it!

2018

During our break we posted a short message on the Forum, thanking you all for 2017 and everything that came with it. Now it is time to look ahead and prepare for the rest of 2018, the undeniably best year of Airport CEO yet as it’ll be a year where we as Apoapsis Studios for the first time can focus on developing Airport CEO full-time and with a completely different economic requisite compared to prior years. We’ve set up an ambitious roadmap that it is now time to start delivering on and we will continue to do so in minor increments just like we’ve done in 2017.

The Three Sprints

We’re departing into the 2018 flight by focusing on three major epics contained within three major sprints. These all share the common denominator of addressing critical and major aspects of the game that are currently lacking. These aspects are equally big as they are complex and cover airline contracts and the flight planning system, the user interface and overall game engine performance in relation to code runtime execution. However, in excess of these three sprints our designer Michell will continue his epic journey of polishing up the art and we will continue to release small art updates in form of packs. More on these as they are released.

A New User Interface

The user interface of Airport CEO is currently acceptable but far from good. We’ve received a lot of feedback and criticism of it and have deemed that feedback critical enough to be part of this year’s first major improvement efforts. Developing a game on this scale, for the first time, contains a steep learning curve and developing a good user interface is just as difficult as anything else that comes with the profession of game development, especially when you’re a small studio and have to wear several different hats a day. One of the most common industry quotes when it comes to developing a user interface goes something along the lines of…

“A user interface is like a joke: If you have to explain it, it isn’t very good.”

That’s sort of where we’re at today; the current user interface is almost like a dad joke. You struggle to understand it at first, but it does click after a while, however after you’ve gotten it its mostly just annoying and kind of lame. We want to transform the user interface from a dad joke to something with a good and smart punch line and we will do so in a series of minor steps. The first part of the UI overhaul included dealing with some legacy and technical debt. Due to a somewhat short and pressed deadline prior to the initial release we did not have enough time to develop a fully responsive and properly scalable UI which we felt comfortable to ship, therefore we implemented a “feature” which forced the game engine to run a 16:9 aspect ratio regardless of the user screen through screen compression and black boxing. This worked for the most part but not in all cases and was, worst of all, robbing users not playing on 16:9 aspect ratios of important screen real estate.

Over the holiday, in between eating and relaxing, we have therefore dealt with that technical debt by owning up to it. Alpha 24.2-3 is currently deployed on the experimental branch and should work flawlessly, in terms of scaling, on any screen regardless of resolution or aspect ratio while making use of the entire screen space. We’ve yet to acquire a 21:9 aspect ratio display for our office to run proper, truly native, build tests but we’ve received a lot of good feedback and good bug reports which have led us to believe that the game now works fine on wide screens… wide screen screens? Anyway, if you have a weird aspect ratio or, for that matter a regular 16:9 aspect ratio and encounter any UI bugs that are related to scaling, we’re very interested in hearing about it. If so, please send in a bug report with attached screens and we’ll get busy fixing it.

Now that we have a good and fresh UI tech base to stand on, what happens next? A redesign! And this is where we need your help. We have a lot of own ideas on how we can improve the user interface with everything from the appearance and style, general UX to removing the tedious task of navigating the management panel… but we want to hear from you! Not what you don’t like about the Airport CEO UI but what you do like about another game’s UI. What’s your favorite game user interface and why? How should we redesign the Airport CEO UI and what are your top-rated features for us to include? As you know, we can’t fulfill everyone’s wishes but your input on this will really help us in the grand design process. You’re welcome to participate in this forum thread. In the meantime, we’ll continue mocking stuff up and watch your feedback and discussion.

A New Airline Contract System

We’ve made notable progress on the upcoming and new airline contract system, which had its core functionality explained in an earlier devlog. The new system is now mostly implemented, and we are currently running local game play tests to check how well it plays and, of course, the usual bug testing. Compared to the old and current system, we’re very pleased with the changes that we’ve made together with the feedback we’ve collected from you which just goes to show that short feedback loops and developer community collaboration is the best way to develop an early access game. We’ve also implemented some additional features to go along with the new contract system change in regard to flight planning such as an automatic flight planning feature, which is also currently being tested. But let’s keep it at that and have you experience the changes in-game instead. We will continue to test the new system and finish some additional required changes such as aligning the tutorial, but if nothing major comes up we expect to deploy the system on the experimental branch by the end of the week (most likely on Friday) as Alpha 24.3. You will of course be notified via the usual channels once its out!

Performance

We really can’t start talking about this just yet as we’ve yet to fully launch this sprint. We’ll postpone its discussion until we’ve properly started working with it, most likely next week, but would just like to quickly mention that we’re very aware of your feedback on this issue and are currently running investigations and planning what action to take. More on this later!

Upcoming Infrastructure Changes

So when we earlier spoke of wearing different hats (not literal hats, job hats) every day we really meant it and now it’s time to take of the game developer hat and put on the IT infrastructure consultant hat. The website and forum is currently hosted on a tiny server in Olof’s wardrobe next to a bunch of shirts and old jackets. It, and by it we mean several services on it, crashed or clogged up severely on launch day due to the sheer number of visitors and has been stricken with something like a PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) from that day since it never really recovered and has gotten slower and slower ever since. Anyway, it’s not really an ideal hosting environment and we will over the coming month plan the moving of the website and forum hosting to a more professional and long-term environment. This is however not a completely uncomplicated task and is expected to take some time and while you, for the most part, shouldn’t really notice it we will at some time have to unplug the forum on the current host and then transition it to the new which will mean extended forum downtime. More on this at a later stage but we thought we’d keep you in the loop.

So that’s it for this week. If you’re still reading and have reached this part: Well done! As a reward we can quickly mention that we over the coming devlogs will bring in a new segment, ACEO team and friends interviews! When we have the time, we will grab key members of the ACEO surrounding team and query them on their work and its relation to Airport CEO. But more on this later, we hope to see you throughout the week and will, as mentioned, update you on when Alpha 24.3 has hit the experimental branch. Fly safe!

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