I, Voyager in 2021

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I think we’re due for an update!

I’ve released two alpha builds since the start of the year. The Web Planetarium is shaping up nicely (try it!). And I feel pretty good about code architecture and how the simulator can support an “extension” game or educational project. I’ll talk about recent progress and my thoughts for future development.

First, I finally understand Godot GUI construction! Instead of attacking misbehaving Controls and Containers with lines of code, I now let them do what they want to do. Good lord! How can something so hard suddenly become so easy? So I discarded our previous Planetarium GUI (a code nightmare) and assembled this in maybe an hour:

OK, I said “assembled” in an hour. But that’s only recently possible due to our new modular GUI widgets. These are bits of GUI that know how to talk to the simulator, and can simply be dropped into Containers:

We have 27 of these widgets now, plus additional GUI “mods” that can make panels draggable, resizable with settings, and/or resizable with drag margins. Here’s another “example” GUI assembled for the Template Project:

The core code also is very modular and extensible. The fundamental object class that orbits (and can be orbited) is the Body, which can have an Orbit, a Model, and other components that set its behavior and appearance. You can extend any of these classes in the ProjectBuilder to have your custom class used in the simulator. Unfortunately, it’s rather terrible from a Godot Editor point of view. You can’t presently use the Godot Editor to build a planetary system. The reason is that I, Voyager builds the Sun, planets and moons entirely by code from data tables (and the ~65,000 asteroids from binaries generated from data tables). In the future, perhaps a developer will be able to build a planetary system either way: by data tables, or by assembling pre-built stars, planets, moons, and space ships in the Editor. In any case, this is a weakness of I, Voyager at the moment.

There are things that I don’t know how to do yet, especially regarding graphics. Item #1 on our issue tracker is our lack of shadows. Yeah, that’s pretty basic! But it’s stumped me so far, and it takes away from the view of Saturn in particular. Speaking of Saturn, we need a rings shader! I, Voyager would benefit from help in this area.

Our roadmap is here. A few of the things I hope to get to this year: 1) You’ll be able to select and visit explored asteroids. Some are already hiding unused in our assets. 2) We’ll have comets, at least as orbital points and traces. 3) And spacecrafts! I’d like to have some real spacecrafts on their real historical flight paths in our Planetarium. We’ll start with Voyager 1 & 2 (of course!), then maybe New Horizons, then — who knows? I think it would be cool to spin the clock back 20 years and find the Galileo spacecraft orbiting Jupiter.

My intension now is to keep the project in “alpha” stage until after Godot 4.0 release (perhaps this summer?). After we port to Godot 4.0, we should quickly go to beta and then official “1.0” release. Our API should be pretty stable by beta. (If I know there are developers depending on it, I will be more careful about API breakage even in alpha.)

If you are working on a project using I, Voyager, or are interested in doing so, please let me know!

Oh! And we recently got our trademark registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office! So one can type I, Voyager® now without getting arrested (although it’s kind of ugly, and not required in most circumstances). I say “we” with the intention that I, Voyager will become both a collaborative effort and a nonprofit entity sometime down the road. More on the nonprofit here.

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