The alpha went live recently, though it is still in a very early form. As of now, it isn't accessable further than the title page but very soon we'll be rolling out access along with the basic user functionality.
This will happen in the form of invite tokens that will be required to register an account. These will be provided to any/all Patreon subscribers as well as current staff.
It starts with Data
The user account system is already mostly functional, but is pending initial integration with our data feed functionality, which is going to be powered by Stream. This is going to be our foundation for an improved version of things like attack notifications, empire history, and improved bookmarking features.
The feed system is the first of 2 major improvements we're going to make in our approach to data handling. We're also going to be using a platform called Algolia to provide us with the search experience that IC's always deserved. Imagine typing a planet's coordinates, or an empire's name, and being able to nearly instantly evaluate and compare opportunities to expand your empire. Things like this are not only possible, they're relatively easy to implement given that we'll be sourcing the heavy lifting off to other entities.
As great as that is, both of these are not entirely free products. Although they have free tiers for smaller projects, which we'll be using for the alpha, we'll likely eventually incur an additional operating cost of around $100/mo. So let's once again show appreciation to our Patreon subscribers because we can only reasonably expect to use services like this thanks to the financial support that we've been fortunate enough to receive. Thank you!
(Re)Defining our Universe
The alpha by definition is going to be highly experimental. From your perspective as a player this will mostly mean changes to the user interface and visual design. However, here are a few game design things that you can expect to be different.
Permanent vs Round-Based
The most obvious one that we've talked about before is that the "main" game is no longer going to be round-based. We will still have round-based competitions with rankings and everything that you're used to, but they will be optional, and part of a larger and more long term experience.
To put your minds at ease, if you don't want to play a long term IC you won't have to. There will be "rounds" as you have always known them, but they not be the star of the show.
We can think of this as less of a game change and more of a game addition.
An alternative to forced teams
At least within the primary game, we will no longer be forcing players to be part of a team at random. Instead, players will be able to create, dissolve, join, or leave alliances at will.
They may find themselves starting in a system with other players, in a way that resembles our current "family" system, but they will not be forced into any particular relationship with their fellow solar system inhabitants. In fact, people in the same home system will be able to be in different alliances. They will even be able to go to war with eachother if they so choose.
This is part of a larger shift towards giving players more control over their experience. Even in IC's prime it was plagued by inactives and never really solved the problem well, despite its best efforts. The forced family concept is inherently flawed in that way, as a team has no means to rid themselves of dead weight.
Starting Planet and Initial Exploration
Another change that is going to come is a shared and neutral starting planet. The current idea is to have a planet within a system at 0,0 to be the literal center of our universe. This planet is going to serve as an introductory tool for users to get familiar with the game's interface before they decide to further commit. In this way it will also double as a gate against inactive players.
When a player is ready to move onto the game proper, they'll be able to decide where they want to establish their home planet from a list of available systems.
There are a lot of other considerations we're going to make with regard to the actual space of our universe and how we define other terms like solar system, galaxy, etc. I'll save that discussion for until we have some more dev work to show for it. For now, we'll be assuming a universe that looks mostly like the one we already know.
That's it for now!
The next thing for you will be seeing actual activity on the new site. Even though registration will initially be invite-only, there will be no restrictions on watching the game. Indeed, there is another larger goal in mind to make IC more accessable as a specator game, so we'll be testing that experience as well.
Anyway, there's enough above to describe our near term focus. There's a lot I haven't talked about yet but as usual I'd rather just show you. I am happy to discuss things generally though, so if you guys have any questions feel free to ask!