Happy holidays, everyone! A lot has happened in the development of Automation Station over the past year. As we approach the end of 2023, I thought it would be a good time to reflect on all the significant changes and new features that have made their way into the game. I’ve written 19 devlogs since January of this year, so I’ll do my best to condense all of that information as best I can.
In the first devlog of 2023 (devlog #4), I debated how buildings should be made in Automation Station. Initially, buildings came packaged in these little crates, but I quickly realized that making each building crate unique and distinguishable was too difficult.
Then, I tried creating miniature versions of the belts and other buildings to represent the “item form” of the building. While this looked adorable, it complicated the controls for placing buildings, and creating the art for these miniature buildings was proving to be a lot of work.
Ultimately, I decided to go with a completely different approach. Rather than crafting the buildings in your factory, you only need to craft intermediate items, such as gears and plates. Buildings can then be constructed from these parts when placed.
In February (devlog #5), our little box bot friend got a backpack! Prior to this, you were only able to store 4 different items in your backpack, which proved to be extremely limiting in an automation game.
While I added the cliffs near the end of 2022, I did a bunch of work to make all the buildings work with them. This made it possible to drop items off of cliffs or launch them up to the top.
Playful Item Interactions
In devlog #6, I introduced a brand new system for interacting with items. This made it possible to pick up nearby items and place them in buildings without needing to aim precisely with a cursor. This also made it possible to support controllers in addition to mouse and keyboard.
While the backpack was great for increasing the player’s storage, it had the downside of not being able to see what items you had nor a way to quickly access items. To address this, I added a toolbar which can be seen in devlog #7.
In devlog #8, I showed off a new method for mining ore. Using your trusty mining laser, you can heat up an ore-rich rock until it explodes into chunks of ore, ready to be smelted.
Next up was the Build Mode! At any point in the game, you can enter build mode, allowing you to select and construct new buildings. The goal was to make factory construction as painless as possible.
The most common building is the conveyor belt, so I spent a bunch of time improving the belt placement tool, allowing you to quickly make paths around obstacles and through your factory.
A Change in Perspective
In May, I finally decided to try out a perspective camera. Although the change is subtle, this made it much easier to determine depth and navigate the world.
While this was a relatively small change, I had to spend a lot of time upgrading all of the shaders and visual effects to support this camera change.
Smelting with Fire
In devlog #11, I reworked the smelting to be based around a new heat system. At the start of the game, you can smelt using your laser to heat up a crucible filled with ore.
Eventually, you can set up coal-burning heaters and connect everything with conveyor belts to fully automate a smelting factory.
The item launchers, which act as a way to launch items over obstacles, have been in the game for a while. However, they used to have a delay before launching their item. In devlog #12, I rewrote the logic for item transfers and launchers to remove this delay, even when a loop of conveyors is completely full of items.
While attempting to fix some weird timing bugs, I ended up rewriting the game’s clock which controls the timing of buildings and their animations. A fun side effect of this work is that it is now possible to slow down or speed up all of the buildings in your factory.
Push it, Rotate it, Orbit it
One of the more unique elements of Automation Station is how every building can be moved and rotated while continuing to perform its function. In June (devlog #13), I polished up the mechanics to ensure that any combination would work as expected. To recap, I’ll show off the various “movers” and how they can be used.
First up is the Piston which pushes an adjacent building over by one tile.
The Rotator is able to rotate an adjacent building either clockwise or counterclockwise.
Finally, we have the Orbiter which orbits all adjacent buildings around it in a clockwise or counterclockwise fashion.
In devlog #14, I made it so that loose items on the ground will be automatically picked up when the player gets close to them. This removed the need to manually pick up each item one by one, which was especially useful for manually mining and extracting resources.
Ever since adding cliffs to the game, it was quite awkward to get items uphill. You could use launchers, but sometimes that felt a bit overkill. So in July (devlog #15), I added conveyor ramps!
Technically, you don’t need a ramp to get items down off of cliffs, but I think some players might prefer the gentle ramp over the sudden drop. Perhaps some items in the game are fragile and need to be carefully moved around without dropping them from cliffs, providing a non-aesthetic reason to use ramps.
In August, I introduced a new core mechanic to the game called “Stacking”. As the name implies, stacking refers to vertically stacking items on top of each other. I prototyped several different designs for the Stacker building which I documented in devlog #16 and devlog #17. Ultimately, I settled on this design that features a little support to hold items at different heights:
There are currently two versions of the stacker which allow you to create stacks of up to 3 items. However, I’m considering reworking this and other buildings to be more modular which would allow for even taller stacks.
Too big, Too small, Just right
With all of the new height-based mechanics that I had been adding to the game over the last year, it was becoming increasingly clear that the current item size wasn’t going to work. Up until this point, the items were roughly spherical and somewhere between the height of a conveyor belt and the height of a cliff. This made it impossible to make things line up vertically. Eventually, I decided to change the shape of items to follow this flat cylinder shape, as seen here with stators:
While part of me misses the old item balls, I think transitioning all of the items to follow this shape will be a huge improvement for gameplay.
Automation Station has gone through several iterations on the design for a crafting system. I’ve tried a ton of unique and creative options for crafting; all of them had problems with how they interacted with the rest of the game’s systems and art constraints. However, in September, I finally added what I believe will closely represent the crafting system in the final game.
This new crafting mechanic is based on the item stacking. The player must construct a stack of items in a particular sequence and then feed that to an Assembler which will craft a new product from the stack.
In devlog #19, I showed off two new storage buildings that I added to the game. The Chest is able to receive and send items via connected conveyor belts, making it easy to create in-line buffers of items:
The Hopper is a building that can stack on top of other buildings, dropping items into them one at a time.
In October, I finally started working on some of the progression systems that will allow the player to discover and unlock new technologies. The Caches are structures scattered around the world, each containing the cartridge for a new building or recipe. However, in order to open the cache, the player must collect and provide the requested resources to the lock(s) surrounding the Cache.
Once a cartridge has been collected from a Cache, it must be decrypted. For this, I added a new Decrypter building at the center of the starting island. This structure allows players to decrypt cartridges retrieved from Caches to unlock new buildings or recipes.
That brings us to the end of 2023! It’s been a busy year, and the game has evolved significantly during this time. I attempted to highlight most of the significant and exciting new features, but there were numerous other tweaks and changes that I omitted.
While there’s still a long journey ahead, seeing everything I achieved in 2023 fills me with immense excitement for 2024 and the ongoing development of Automation Station.
I want to express a huge thanks to everyone who has been following along on this journey, especially those of you in our Discord server who consistently provide feedback and assist me in addressing design problems. The level of support I’ve received has heightened my motivation to get this game to the finish line.
Happy holidays and I look forward to seeing you all in 2024!