Heat Sig­na­ture

PC

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Spin­ning through the vac­uum of space in a re­cently ex­tri­cated uri­nal block isn’t a sit­u­a­tion we planned for to­day. It’s the stuff of Dou­glas Adams-fu­elled night­mares and came about as a re­sult of be­ing a lit­tle too bold at the helm of what was, un­til re­cently, a con­sid­er­ably larger ves­sel. Luck­ily, our per­sonal pod can be re­motely con­trolled, so af­ter leap­ing clear of the space lav, we’re soon back in an oxy­genated en­vi­ron­ment.

Tom Fran­cis’s Heat Sig­na­ture is about dis­rup­tion. On a galac­tic scale, your main con­cern is dis­rupt­ing trade routes and help­ing or hin­der­ing the var­i­ous fac­tions in their oc­cu­pa­tion of space. On a more in­ti­mate level, you’ll be board­ing ships, hack­ing their sys­tems, and scram­bling the con­tents of skulls with a wrench, or the guns that you scav­enge.

De­spite the dis­tances in­volved (space is big) and the game’s stealth lean­ings, play is pacy and spiked with adren­a­line. Mov­ing through the pro­ce­du­rally gen­er­ated cor­ri­dors of a ship feels like a cere­bral spin on Hot­line Mi­ami: en­e­mies are much eas­ier to deal with if you get the jump on them, and ex­tremely dan­ger­ous if you don’t. A sin­gle wal­lop or bullet is all that’s needed to fell them or you, but you won’t die straight away if you’re the los­ing party – en­e­mies in­stead walk you to an air­lock and un­cer­e­mo­ni­ously toss you into the dark­ness, leav­ing you with 30 sec­onds to pi­lot your pod to your po­si­tion or as­phyx­i­ate.

Out in space, things are just as zippy, with your pod hurtling at a lick and an au­topi­lot sys­tem en­abling lightyears to pass by in mo­ments. “You can go faster when you au­topi­lot be­cause of fic­tional rea­sons,” says Fran­cis. “The real rea­son is I cap your speed with nor­mal flight, oth­er­wise peo­ple just keep thrust­ing in one di­rec­tion for­ever and they

don’t re­alise when you want to stop you now have 15 min­utes of [thrust­ing] in the other di­rec­tion to slow down. Au­topi­lot judges that and starts stop­ping in time.”

Each point on the sprawl­ing, pro­ce­du­rally gen­er­ated gal­axy map is a space sta­tion that can be vis­ited. In the game’s cur­rent build, there’s only a mis­sion com­puter at each of them, though Fran­cis in­tends to add shops and other dis­trac­tions even­tu­ally. But the com­puter is your main des­ti­na­tion, dol­ing out jobs such as pil­fer­ing items or en­tire ships, as well as VIPs marked for as­sas­si­na­tion.

Your tar­get will most likely be mak­ing its way along a trade route be­tween sta­tions, and once you’ve caught up with it you’ll have to stay cool enough to sneak past its sen­sors to get on board. It’s a sim­ple setup, with your ship grad­u­ally heat­ing up when the en­gines are fired, but one that has caused no small amount of frus­tra­tion.

“It’s been a night­mare get­ting peo­ple to un­der­stand that,” Fran­cis tells us. “We’ve yet to come up with a heat sys­tem that peo­ple in­tu­itively grasp. Ev­ery­one thinks it’s to do with speed – like the faster you’re go­ing, the hot­ter you get. But that’s not it, it’s thrust. So you could be go­ing max­i­mum speed and be to­tally cold. But no one seems to get that.”

The so­lu­tion, Fran­cis hopes, is to add in a me­ter that shows your pod’s tem­per­a­ture in­creas­ing in re­al­time rel­a­tive to the thresh­old at which a ship’s sen­sors can de­tect you. “I’m fine with [chang­ing things] for the first few it­er­a­tions, and then you get to a point where it’s like, ‘I’ve just sunk so much time into re­design­ing that one sys­tem and I don’t even care about it that much.’ If I’d known it was go­ing to take that long, I would’ve just scrapped heat com­pletely… I mean, it’s in the ti­tle, but as I found out with Gun­point, you don’t nec­es­sar­ily have to make the game su­per-rel­e­vant to the ti­tle!”

Get­ting past the de­fen­sive sys­tems of of­ten heav­ily armed tar­get ships doesn’t pose much of a chal­lenge yet, a thin mem­brane be­tween the in­ti­mate on­board sneak­ing and grandiose po­lit­i­cal machi­na­tions of in­creas­ing fac­tions’ ter­ri­to­rial con­trol. De­stroy a ship on a trade route and that path will be shut down by the author­i­ties. Cut off all sup­ply routes to a sta­tion and it will trig­ger an emer­gency evac­u­a­tion, which al­lows you to take on a mis­sion to seize con­trol of the or­bital, the process re­quir­ing you to scup­per a ship left be­hind to de­fend its shell while the fac­tion with the ti­tle deeds re­groups. Suc­ceed and a new trade route will be opened that con­nects your prize to your em­ployer’s net­work.

There’s cur­rently no real re­ward for do­ing so and, while the core me­chan­ics are in place, there’s lit­tle in the way of goals to fo­cus your ef­forts. Fran­cis has grand plans for char­ac­ter story arcs, per­sis­tent perks and com­plex sub­terfuge in the fin­ished game, how­ever.

“Right now, you’re al­ways a free­lancer and the fac­tions are generic and you can work for any­one at any time,” he says. “But ev­ery time you die and start a new life, you’ll be choos­ing a new char­ac­ter, and I think most of them will be­long to a fac­tion. I was think­ing it would be cool if you’re do­ing a mis­sion against, say, the Shiga Cor­po­ra­tion and you get spot­ted aboard their ship. If you com­plete your mis­sion and get away, you’ll never be able to work for the Shiga fac­tion, be­cause they’ll ban you. But you could work for two op­pos­ing sides, but only if you’re stealthy enough that they never find out.”

“We’ve yet to come up with a heat sys­tem that peo­ple in­tu­itively grasp”

Ships are cur­rently ran­domly con­structed, but Fran­cis is work­ing on al­go­rithms that make in­te­ri­ors feel more de­lib­er­ate and de­signed. Tur­rets left manned af­ter a takeover will still func­tion when you pi­lot the ship

Pub­lisher/

devel­oper Sus­pi­cious De­vel­op­ments For­mat PC Ori­gin UK Re­lease TBC

Devel­oper Tom Fran­cis

Your suit af­fords you pro­tec­tion in space, but not from bul­lets and wrenches. If a guard catches you, they will in­ca­pac­i­tate you be­fore car­ry­ing you to an air­lock and cast­ing you out into space

The elab­o­rate and colour­ful neb­u­las that make up the back­drop to Heat Sig­na­ture’s sprawl­ing gal­ax­ies ac­cen­tu­ate both the fear­some iso­la­tion of deep space as well as its beauty

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