11/06/2010 (Sat), 23:00 UTC – 6-year Anniversary Event, Developer-run.
Exact nature TBD, but we would particularly welcome any returning VO vets.
It’s been almost four months since the last newsletter, and we’ve been very busy in that time. Unfortunately, due to confidentiality with some of our partners, we’ve been unable to discuss many of our projects and goals during that time. At this point, we have a few cool announcements.
- Gameplay Change Recap -
- All ships now use a single storm-exit point; this has apparently revitalized the pirating-convoys-in-storms strategy, aside from making things much easier for players defending convoys.
- Border Skirmish kills now give Weapon XP.
- The three Hives have been named Milanar, Prosus and Siepos, and each has unique drops that are specific to the given Hive. Future changes
will include unique bot types for each hive, along with combat strategies and other behaviours.
- The unique drops from the three Hives can be used in Manufacturing missions located in the conquerable stations. The resulting items from
these manufacturing missions will then become critically important in the assembly of an upcoming Big Feature.
- Frame limiter is now enabled by default at 120 frames per second. This should help newer computers to run a bit cooler and use less power. On mobile platforms, this is set even lower (40FPS on Android), to aid battery life.
- Significantly enhanced detail of station textures, plus more efficient use of texture memory.
- Three new turret types (Repair, Neutron Mk3, Rocket) may now be manufactured from conquerable stations.
- All Valkyrie masses slightly increased, SVG turbo drain slightly reduced.
- Many new PCC missions and other features.
- Vendetta Online on Ubuntu Linux -
For the last few months we’ve been working with Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu Linux, to be one of their featured products in the new Software Center being rolled out as part of the Ubuntu 10.10 “Maverick Meerkat” release. This Software Center will basically bring app-store type functionality to Linux, something that could greatly help the platform in gaining acceptance as a desktop OS, and allow easy access to a variety of software that exists outside the open-source world (such as commercial videogames).
Vendetta Online should appear in the new Software Center sometime next week. We were intended to be a debut partner with the OS launch (on 10/10/10), but a few delays popped up here and there; those have now been addressed and we’re confident you’ll see our title appear there in the near future.
- The Recording System -
A couple of months ago we had some opportunities crop up as part of our ongoing Android development. We needed to create a way to show off realtime Vendetta Online gameplay, without requiring the user to create an account, login, and the like. We wanted a user to be able to touch the pre-installed Vendetta Online icon on their new Tegra tablet device, and immediately get an idea of what kind of game it is. Towards this end, we created the ability to record and playback events within the game, using the game client itself.
The saved data from these recordings is relatively small, as we are literally playing back the network traffic that occurred at the time of the recording. Eventually, we would like to see people saving and sharing recordings of their in-game experiences. We would also like to expand the game to potentially include “video” footage for our in-game
News system; perhaps embedded playback of the last minute of a recent Nation War, or a bounty hunter taking out a well-known pirate. There are a lot of interesting applications for this development, and the size of the data is small enough to make distribution over the internet a relatively minor issue.
For the moment, the usage will be limited to the new “demo/tutorial” mode, which is currently only featured on the not-yet-public Android/Tegra build. As of this writing, it plays through a series of pre-recorded scenes (battles, station flybys, etc). We’re working on expanding this to also include some friendly tutorials, where a user can
watch a simple playback of how to do a specific task, before taking the mission that asks them to do it on their own. Finally, we’ll be adding a basic single-player tutorial system, so a user may learn to fly without requiring the process of account setup.
All of this will then be back-ported to the PC versions and optimized for usage there. We expect this to be a big win for new users just starting out in the game. Eventually, we hope the recording/playback architecture will prove to be useful everywhere in the game.
- Android and Tegra -
Our users have had to put up with a lot of small updates over the last few months, many of which have been centered around a client that is not
public (Android), intended for devices which were not yet for sale (Tegra). However, this is slowly starting to change. Early devices are becoming available, and we hope to see many more appear over the coming months.
As these early devices come into stores, we may launch an “open beta” of Vendetta Online for Android. We’ve had it patching on the production patch servers for some time now, and we’re already distributing it to OEM partners much as we do the other versions. There are still some issues to be fixed, and a number of usability areas to polish with the touchscreen interface (and I imagine we’ll be polishing that forever), but the game itself is fundamentally quite playable, especially on our latest test devices.
So, if you feel absolutely compelled to buy an Android-based tablet or netbook this holiday season, and you want to play Vendetta Online, be sure to get one powered by NVIDIA Tegra. The other chips out there will not run our game, as it stands; and while we may support them eventually, it’s not a priority for us right now.
- Intel AppUp Store -
Vendetta Online is now available in the Intel AppUp Store. This is good exposure for the game, as this store will apparently be included on a variety of upcoming Intel Atom based netbooks (such as a new one from Asus).
However, because Intel does not allow the distribution of self-updating applications through the store, and has a lengthy validation process for patches, we don’t recommend that existing players use the version on the store. The normal client download from our website, with our internal patching system, makes for smaller downloads and a more up-to-date client.
Still, it’s interesting and kind of cool:
*Development Status and Upcoming Changes*
- The Shifting Tides of Development -
Our development during late summer and fall did not proceed according to the plans that we stated in the last newsletter. Certain time-sensitive opportunities came up, some of which are mentioned above, and we needed to quickly take action to capitalize on them. These were good choices, and in the best interests of the game and company. However, as a result, we did not hit quite as many of our gameplay goals as we intended.
All that said, I expect to fill out the remainder of the year with a lot of cool gameplay changes, which I’ll now begin to describe..
- Drops, Manufacturing, and Big Stuff -
The launch of the Three Named Hives has created a lot of opportunities for unique drops, which may then be assembled into interesting items through various Manufacturing missions. Some of the items are odd and unwieldy and have no known purpose, but this will all be revealed in time.
As we move forward, you can expect to see a lot more unique bots, drops, and items which may be manufactured. A whole tree of intriguing manufactured goods will arrive to compliment those already existing, and eventually these items will be used to help assemble our first step into a very long-awaited area of gameplay content.
- Targeting and NPC Behaviour -
I mentioned the process of polishing the game in my last newsletter, and that is still a major goal of ours. One near-term aspect of this is the system that NPC AI uses to determine who to attack, and when. We’re looking a pretty major re-design and implementation, with the goal of improving situations like:
- NPCs that are properly limited by fog and asteroid occlusion.
- Queen defenders that respond properly to aggression.
- Border Skirmish battles that better distribute their forces.
- Hives that defend themselves in different ways.
..and so on.
While this may not have quite the appeal as some more obvious content additions, the ramifications for making *everything* better cannot be understated. While adding new gameplay is a good thing, much of what we need is simply to make our existing gameplay.. better. More polished. More accessible. More fun. This is the goal.
- Reworking the Early Game -
We intend to restructure the early game to emphasize involvement in manufacturing using goods dropped from NPCs, as well as group play and helping players find one another within the early levels. There will also be a significant reduction in the amount of text that people have to read, which has been an oft-heard complaint. The previously covered “recording” system will have some impact on this, but mostly it’s about restructuring early gameplay goals, and replacing the post-tutorial botting missions with something more fun that yields a more interesting form of advancement, along with the ability to make Cool Stuff. All of this restructuring of goals will eventually propagate upward into the later levels, as we make more group-play and “help me find other people” options available. The universe is a big place, and some people will always want to explore alone (which is fine), but more options are needed for those looking to find wingmen in the vast expanse of space.
- Factions and The Economy -
The faction standing redux and re-workings of the economy and universe are still very much in the works. Yes, development has slowed over the summer, but brought with it many unique new business opportunities to grow the game and the userbase.
I would really, really like to see Vendetta Online 1.9 before the end of this calendar year. The release of 1.9 will signify the “fixing” of our best-known issues (Faction, FF, Economy, and some other things), and I have not been willing to roll up to that version until those things happen.
It is my hope that Android development will be winding down a bit for us in the coming weeks, and it is my intent to redouble my efforts to address these most significant and longstanding gameplay issues before 2011.
Once 1.9 is in place, we will have a better foundation on which to build 2.0, which is all the *new* content. Technically, we’ve already added a few things which were intended to be part of 2.0, such as the first implementation of station conquest. However, one can expect the purpose of these features to be drastically expanded, once we get some of our gameplay-polish and other goals out of the way.
A side-effect of making this 1.9 goal happen in the near-term, will be updating our development Trac to a point where we can make it public (To new users unfamiliar with the Trac: this basically means exposing a great deal more of our plans, milestones, and intended game design on a publicly-accessible website. This has been planned for.. years).
- New Website, New Payment Types -
Our new Vendetta Online website is not yet released, but we are now accepting Zeevex game cards as of this week. We expect the new website to go online within the coming weeks, and we think you’ll all agree it’s a big improvement over the current site. It sure looks a lot cooler.
- That’s all for Now -
We have a lot to do for the game, and hopefully we’ll be seeing a lot of the work from this past year start to really come together in the near term. VO on Android, VO on Ubuntu, VO on netbooks, VO on Ubuntu.. netbooks. VO for wristwatches! Well, no, not really (until they make Tegra/Android watches with tiny projectors. Somewhere, someone is probably developing that). Anyway, there’s a lot going on, and it’s taken a great deal of energy and effort to make this all happen.
I know from the user perspective, a lot of you wonder “what the hell is going on?!”, especially when we’ve been silent for a few weeks, or are continually pushing out weird, tiny Android updates every few days. All I can do is thank you, our userbase, for your great patience and constant support, especially during lengthy periods of silence and seeming development-drought. We really need your support, and we could never have made use of these opportunities, with their attached risks, without your constancy.
I can also say with honestly that this has been the most intensely, (exhaustingly) productive work year, for me, at least since 2004 when we had to go from “alpha” to “box on shelf” in about 6 months. At this point I want little more than to get back to core game development, and I expect to be doing so in the near future. I think that will be a welcome change for all of us.
*Keep in Touch*
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