Airships: Conquer the Skies - Zarkonnen

In dev 10, I'll be concentrating on making the conquest gameplay deeper. The first step to this is to make the map zoomable.

The strategic map code is some of the oldest and least-touched code in the game. I wrote it back when I considered 1024x768 a reasonable screen resolution. And because it's at a fixed pixel scale, if you have a high-resolution screen, the maps now look tiny.

At the same time, it's also shockingly memory-inefficient. Each pixel on the map is its own map tile with information about height and city ownership. This means that larger maps - a very popularly requested feature - would consume far too much RAM.

So over the last ten days, I've rewritten it to be zoomable. Now, instead of each pixel being a tile, the tile grid is actually much more coarse, but thanks to some hopefully clever thing with the map boundary drawing, this is not particularly evident. So the new maps require 256 times less memory while being smoothly zoomable.

This is only the first step towards making the conquest mode deeper and more engaging. Nothing has actually changed about the gameplay, yet, but this will enable these improvements to happen. And if you'd like to try it out, you can switch to the "dev10alpha" branch on Steam. One caveat: this new map format is incompatible with the old one, so you won't be able to load old save games while on the alpha branch.

Have fun, and let me know if you find any bugs or have suggestions on how to further improve the zoomable maps.
Airships: Conquer the Skies - Zarkonnen
  • Increased rifle damage from 4 to 5 but decreased clip size to 20.
  • Upgrading monster nests now keep their fleet and coat of arms.
  • Having lots of monster nests no longer causes performance problems.
  • Fixed pirate king income and missing upgrade warning message.
  • Fixed weird stone guardian shot display.
  • Fixed inability to design ships from defences.
  • Fixed incorrect width of city menu when building things.
  • Raid progress bar no longer overflows.
  • Raid panel no longer hides weather info icons.
  • Fixed incorrect reference to grenades in German crew shouts.
  • Stopped particles stuck on ships from vibrating weirdly.
  • Fixed scroll wheel hot areas for editor and ships list.
Oct 31
Airships: Conquer the Skies - Zarkonnen
Today marks the release of Airships dev 9.5. It adds a bunch of new monsters to the game, which is why I picked Halloween has the release date, of course.

To celebrate the release, I've also created a diverting quiz that lets you determine which in-game monster you most resemble. Moreover, if you tweet your monstrous identity and tag me in, you might get a free Airships steam key at the end of the week.

So, what monsters does the update add? Giant stone guardians, aerial jellies, cultists, and turtledoves. And... certain other things I'll let you discover on your own. Moreover, certain monster locations, if left alone for too long, will now upgrade into more dangerous versions. Leave pirates to ply their trade, and they will eventually band together and elect a Pirate King.

So here are the new monsters:


You have probably seen these float past in the background. It's frankly unkind to call these creatures monsters. They're peaceful and mostly harmless. You can simply let them be, or you can hunt them for their meat and shells.

Aerial Jellies

The giant, flying version of a Portuguese Man o'War. This one has a lot of tentacles and will rapidly devour your crew.


These questionable clerics set up temples in remote regions and acquire followers with promises of a new morality, unshackled from common mores. Plus, they practice magic, which while rare, turns out to be real and very dangerous.

Stone Guardians

Gigantic animated stone statues that stand watch over certain sites. Are they protecting treasure or ritual sites? They come in a huge array of shapes and project glowing orbs of magical energy to pulverize your fleet.

There's also two new construction options using monster-derived materials:

Shell Armour

Made from the remains of those poor turtledoves you hunted. It makes your ships float better.

Acid Spitter

Created by harvesting the acid produced by giant spiders or other... certain rare creatures. A short-range armour-penetrating weapon.

To round it off, as usual, there's a bunch of bug fixes and performance improvements. And with that, we leave the dev 9 development cycle behind and get started on dev 10, focusing on strategic conquest.

Oct 30
Airships: Conquer the Skies - Zarkonnen

The beta for 9.5, the monster update, is now available. Of course, the update is scheduled to appear on the 31st.

As always, if you feel like it, opt into the beta via the game settings in Steam, and do let me know about any problems or balance issues - that's what it's for!

A quick change list:
  • More monster types for your fleet to discover and be devoured by.
  • Some monster nests, after a while, will now upgrade into more powerful versions.
  • Acid spitter weapon and turtle armour.
  • Armoured doors.
  • Various bug fixes and performance improvements.

Beta 2

Added German translations, hid some monster-specific modules that weren't meant to be visible in the editor. Added some parchment-style basic info images for the new nests.

Airships: Conquer the Skies - Zarkonnen
Version 9.4.1 fixes a bunch of bugs:
  • Fixed missing explosion overlay tooltip and repair ship text.
  • Explosion overlay uses new explosion damage calculations.
  • Zoom to fit shortcut key has been removed to no longer conflict with undo.
  • Errors and warnings now move out of the way of the overlay chooser.
  • Can now delete files in subfolders.
Also, I have gone through the vast amount of replies I got to my - intentionally provocatively-worded - question about the game's features. Unsurprisingly, not everyone wants the same thing. There seem to be roughly three groups: strategic conquest players, multiplayer players, and ship designers.

The most popular items, mentioned in a third of responses, were bigger strategic conquest maps and a more complex economy. Conveniently, this is the major thrust of the dev 10 release, so as soon as the new monsters are out of the door, I'll be concentrating on that.

The next most popular things, in about a sixth of responses each, were more modules, and multiplayer conquest. More modules will definitely happen. MP conquest, well, as previously stated, there are design and tech problems to overcome. I will see if I can make something work, but I really really can't promise anything.

Around one out of ten responses mentioned in-combat cities, more cosmetic options, diplomacy, or a tech tree. These are things that I'll keep in mind as nice-to-have, but not critical.

Finally, only a few people were interested in a linear story/campaign mode, so that's definitely not going to be a focus.

Airships: Conquer the Skies - Zarkonnen
If I stopped development on Airships right now and called it done, what would you be most disappointed about?

Don't panic, I'm not doing that. But I want you to tell me what Airships with its potential fulfilled would look like to you.

This may be really obvious to you. You may be thinking "well, of course he's going to add X, because X is the obvious thing that the game needs." But I can think of many different forms X can take, and I can't do them all, and you may have different ideas from me.

If you tell me now, three months before development is scheduled to conclude, I can take it into account.

Here's a list of things I can think of that might count as fulfilling the game's potential:
  • A linear storyline of missions: I've always maintained that Airships is a toy box, not a linear experience to be played through. But I could add one on top.
  • An economy system for the strategic mode: Moving from money to specific resources, adding trading and resource production.
  • Much bigger maps for strategic mode: Adding minor towns to conquer, and more and bigger enemy empires.
  • Many more modules: Many more weapons as well as more size and shape variations for existing modules.
  • Multiplayer strategic mode: This would suffer from the problem that you'd spend the majority of time spectating on battles that don't involve you. But I could try to put it in.
  • Many more options to visually customize and decorate the ships: different cosmetic appearances for armour and weapons, decorative modules like bowsprites and flags.
  • Cities that are visible in the combat mode: civilian buildings for the defenses to protect, and for the attackers to destroy.
You may want one or some of these, or you may want something different yet. I cannot do all of them. Tell me in the comments: what would make the game complete for you?


Wow, so many responses, thank you! I am going through them, producing both an overview of preferences and looking at specific suggestions.

Quick notes to common requests:
  • Sea-going ships are planned, but as an expansion pack after early access concludes.
  • Here is a blog post about why ground troops look hard and non-fun to me.
Oct 12
Airships: Conquer the Skies - Zarkonnen

Om nom nom delish
  • Folder support for ship designs and save games.
  • Build queues for ships and buildings.
  • You no longer get the cost of your ship refunded when it's finished building!
  • Fixed crash when loading modded strategic game.
Note that the price of the game will increase in the next few days.
Airships: Conquer the Skies - Zarkonnen
On the basis of the questionnaire I sent around last week, the Airships multiplayer hours have been shifted to times that should suit more people. Also, I made a Discord bot to tell people when it happens.

The new MP hour slots are:
  • Wednesday, 23:00 UTC
  • Friday, 19:00 UTC
  • Sunday, 07:00 UTC
Apart from announcing the MP hour, the new bot, herald, can also be prodded to produce enlightening factoids:

Not on the Airships discord yet? Here it is!
Airships: Conquer the Skies - Zarkonnen
A new beta is available, under the beta tag "folders". It introduces support for subdirectories in the ships, saves, and combats lists, so you can better organize your stuff. You can create folders, move things in and out of them, and rename files and folders.

Because it touches on how your data is stored, I've put it into a separate beta, and recommend you make a backup copy of your data folder (%APPDATA%\AirshipsGame\) before switching to it. I mean, I wrote the code to do the right thing, but I'm not infallible.

Next up, I'll be working on build queues for cities, and while that's going on, I'd love some feedback from betaneers about the folder support.

9.4 Beta 2
  • Build queues for ships and buildings.
  • Fixed crash when loading a saved strategic game with mods.
  • Fixed weird behaviour when there's a directory and a file with the same name.
  • You no longer get the cost of your ship refunded when it's finished building...
Airships: Conquer the Skies - Zarkonnen
Development on Airships has now progressed enough that I can tell you about my plans for getting to the release.

First, a caveat: this is the current plan, but it may change. Work may take more time than expected, features may not work out, and I might change my mind.

I'm aiming for a release date in early March 2018, with the exact day to be nailed down later. If I miss that release window, the fall-backs are July 2018 and September 2018. The reason for this timing is that it aims to avoid popular times for large games to release, such as the pre-Christmas period, and specific events like GDC and the Steam summer sale.

March 2018 doesn't mean that I have another 5 months of coding time left. Since the creation of Airships is pretty much a one-man show, I have to switch hats and concentrate on things like marketing in the months before the launch. So I'm aiming to be done with the coding bit by the end of this year.

So I've taken stock of the remaining work and divided it into three categories: things that absolutely need to be added to the game before release, things that would be nice but may not make the cut, and things I have to explore to see if they're possible.

Firmly planned
  • Folder support for ship designs and build queues. This will be version dev 9.4.
  • More monster stuff. Right now, there's some monsters like the aerial kraken that aren't used properly, and I want to fix that. Version dev 9.5.
  • Updated sound effects for weapons and engines. Version dev 9.6.
  • Basing the strategic map on Voronoi tiles instead of pixels, which will make it less memory-intensive, zoomable, and allow for bigger maps. Updating the enemy ship design to provide more interesting challenges. Version dev 10.
  • Adding a tech tree, or revamping the bonus system in some other way, depending on player feedback I'll be asking you for soon. Also, nicer victory and defeat screens for strategic conquest. Version dev 10.1.
  • Finally, making the hotkeys remappable. This comes at the end, because the re-mapper has to be constructed to correctly tell you when there's key conflicts, and for that, the rest of the game needs to be done. Version 1.0.
Nice to have
  • Multi-part missions
  • Even more monsters with additional code to support them, like giant owls
  • A reputation system in strategic conquest mode
  • A new crew animation system
  • Replacing the way trees are handled to produce prettier, more tree-like trees
  • Civilian buildings visible in city combat
  • A detailed post-combat stats screen
  • Different biomes like deserts
  • Spectator mode for multiplayer
  • Multiplayer battles with more than one player per side
  • More achievements
  • An intro sequence for the game
To explore
  • Multiplayer strategic mode. I've previously repeatedly said that it won't work, and I still think it won't, but I want to verify this.
  • Another cool thing I'm not going to tell you about yet in case it doesn't work...
To be clear, I would love to put every single thing in the "nice to have" list into the game. But if I did, we might end up with a release window of March 2019 or something.

So that's the plan. I hope you find it informative. Right now, I'm working on the folder support, and should have a beta for it available in the next few days.

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