Chronojam: Oh hey, it's my turn to do a blog for all you lovely people out there to spend the next couple hours reading. This week we've got some fun new images to show off some new 2d artwork (including a small sample of how shaders and a well-made texture can affect your perception of a surface), some final stages in the preparation of one of 994's most anticipated units, some discussion on one of the old quirky units that found a special place in everybody's hearts when A-bombs were first available, and the chance for you to give a little feedback... and more. I'll start things off a little slow, so here we go.
.994 Testing Updates
As you know, we've been testing some of 994's features internally with a large number of newly-added temporary testers. Since the testing began, we've dropped a few, regained a few, and even brought back an old full-time tester. But the important thing is that we've been able to get some evaluations of how the newer units interact with the existing frame of balance. I've been having the testers run through various scripted confrontations between main-line units and the results are pretty much on spot, although some minor changes and tweaks may be in order so we get the typical combat results to come in the way we want.
This weekend, hopefully, we'll have some massive, unorchestrated games. By unorchestrated, I mean it will be an all-out-war; no scripts, just a time and place to show up. Using what we've learned, we can put in some more work towards putting the finishing touches on 994's actual balance, and then begin finishing up the actual feature list. Of course, you can probably expect some more screenshots from all this to be posted up. Hopefully, in .994, we'll see every unit get used, and interesting tactics and unit combinations be developed by players.
In case you missed the news, APB staffers Jonwil and Saberhawk have been tirelessly coding away at bits of what makes Renegade tick, allowing us to introduce all sorts of great new visual effects and gameplay possibilities; many of these new enhancements will be easily applied to vanilla Renegade of course, and best of all, we are developing and documenting our shaders technology in a way that will make it only marginally more difficult to implement in other mods such as Apocalypse Rising and C&C: Reborn.
Currently, lots of work and planning have been going into those famous dll files for upcoming 3.x versions. Jonwil's also working on a little something special on the side that might help things out in the buildings department, too. We'll probably mention that in a later update, so stay tuned. Right now, a big part of the workload for APB's coders though, is touching up existing code (remember that if you crash playing APB while using a new dll, try to locate and submit your except.txt file).
Some past creations can act a little finicky, and some of the older code for APB that dates back to .9925 is due for a touchup. For example, there's been talk of redoing the code that controls the missile silo and a-bomb launch. Many people have also noticed that certain in-game events seem to be lacking sounds, and thus the scripts for those events will need to be updated to play the associated sound effect. It'd sure be nice to hear a notification when your A-bomb is ready...
Hinting at Sound Updates?
Everybody's heard every sound in the mod by now, and some of them, admittedly, aren't the best. While we hired a sound guy a long time ago who didn't seem that interested in making anything, we've recently hired a texture guy who seems to have an interest. Ackart has triggered an interest among team members in finding and creating new sounds for various weapons and effects, including for events in-game that currently have no associated sound (but should). This ties into the bit about the code update, of course. Won't it be nice when you actually hear a roar and see the screen shake as a nuclear missile blasts free from the missile silo? We think you'll agree with us that yes, it will be rather nice.
Ackart has played around with some sounds and listened to some feedback from other team members. Obviously any new sound effects for reloading, or even the firing itself, may require changes based on actual in-game circumstances and statistics; you can't have a 5 second long reload noise for a 2 second long reload animation. As all the new weapons for 994 (and beyond) are not yet ready, we cannot yet sync up reload sounds, for example. But hopefully we'll be able to replace the sounds of tank fire and shell impacts with some brand new, unique and identifiable effects, and ditch those old Renegade reload sounds. At the end of this blog will be a short video to give you a preview of some of the sound work as we play around with possibilities.
The Grass is Good
Making APB yiff-tastic in the audio department isn't what we hired Ackart for, of course. If you remember right, he came on board to work on new textures, specifically ones that would be able to take advantage of our realizations regarding possible resolutions and formatting and-- yes dammit we want to see bricks pop out at you, we want some shaders! As bricks on a base structure are probably the most obvious example of an application of our normal and height mapping, we're going to show you something a little bit different.
Grass. Yes, you read that right (and are about to see the pictures right), grass. Given that a good percentage of the maps for A Path Beyond take place in a more temperate theater of war (or so Red alert would try to convince you), there's plenty of opportunity to see fields of grass. Hopefully, for .994's release, therefore, we will replace all the old grass with shiney new normal mapped grass.
In fact, for maps where it is raining, we literally plan to create a grass variant that looks shinier thanks to our specularity features we've brought to the engine. For maps where it's a cold winter morning? We can make an effect for that too. And believe me, the new textures are a lot better than the old stuff, even if your graphics card cannot support shaders (don't forget that APB will not require a shaders-capable graphics card to play). The goal is to get the most atmosphere for a player as we can with whatever their hardware will support, and beyond what Renegade itself could.
Maybe it's hard to get excited about grass, but now you'll have a chance to compare the boring old stuff to the kind of grass you'll see in 994 and beyond; and of course we will be developing a large library of different looks for everything from sand to snow to pavement to yes, concrete (but doesn't everything look like concrete?). So here, take a look at this teaser of the wonderful world of APB grasses throughout the versions:
Old, boring generic grass field
Yeah, that's clearly dated. Renegade has seen some better textures.
Old, less boring generic grass
This grass looks a little less bland and a little more defined, but surely we can't just apply it everywhere anymore.
New APB grass for areas with leaf detail
Now, there's some damn grass, suitable for whatever forest is about to become home to the next battle.
New APB grass, enhanced
With very minimal gpu overhead, and a subtle application of lighting, even on this boring level surface the leaves appear to curl and the bits of plant matter no longer appear flattened against the ground.
New APB grass, enhanced further
Shaders let us apply more visual effects, adding specularity and normal mapping along with heightmapping (which we're not even demonstrating for these demonstrations) to generate the desired look. We can take the same forest floor texture and make it apply to a cold, frosted taiga.
The majority of APB players will be able to see it like this without much trouble. Keep in mind that this is sensitive to whatever lighting setup there is, too; for the test level, the lighting was actually linked directly to the player's orientation! So if you looked to the left and then to the right, or up and down, you could watch the shadows grow or disappear into nothingness. It is also possible to change the entire tint of the texture of course, giving it its own unique hue to fit the mood of the map and light itself properly to account for anything from a warm sunny day to an orange sunset, at the team's discretion.
Now imagine applying this, combined with the other shaders you've seen, and existing effects such as those on the map Hostile Waters along with bloom lighting and just imagine what we can make this old engine do for rendering a remote location on the snowy Russian borderlands. Say hello to atmosphere as you plod along in what looks like uneven snow reflecting the sunlight around, but don't get too distracted because there's a sophisticated piece of equipment coming towards you that's about to try ensuring that you never see anything again--
WIP: Allied Mobile Gap Generator
Hell yeah, the Mobile Gap Generator. It already has a topic devoted to devising sneaky tactics despite not even being available to non-testers! While perhaps not entirely as effective at hiding your force as the Nod Mobile Stealth Generator developed nearly a century later, it's certainly more imposing and will make you wonder about exactly what you're about to get yourself into as it approaches. Actually, the only person who really will get a chance to see what they're getting into is the driver right before the gap effect activates, but that's no reason to skimp out on details.
Our MGG's got an interesting story behind its development, with a model be Sir Phoenixx, a texture started by Renardin, sent to Phyre, given back to Renardin, and now due to a touchup by Ackart before Venompawz ends up finalizing the camo patterns. This baby gets around. Anyways, here is a progress shot of the MGG in an Allied dark urban/night camo; the final will have normal, specularity, and height mapping along with a forest, snowy, and desert set of alternate color schemes (just like every other future APB vehicle will have) and the truck bed's metal will likely be adjusted.
After this is done, the Silo is next on the hit list for completed textures; Ore Silo that is. And after we've finished texturing it we'll whip up its animations and let you see it go boom! Just to tease you a little; you guys like being teased right? Then you'll be happy to know that texture work for the base metal of the silo itself and the ladder and the pipes is ready to go... but you'll have to wait to see. All the new building stuff won't be in-game until 1.0, sorry guys!
A Trip Down Memory Lane
We've been showing off a lot of fancy new effects. But do you remember how things used to be back in the day? Many APB players have not played Renegade in months or years, or perhaps even at all (beyond once at a friend's house). We've come a long way, and PointlessAmbler is working on a bit of a historical summary of APB throughout its versions, to later become a permanent site feature (Reborn and APB will have a new combinatorial site later, but let's be honest-- the forums is where it's at). Mmmm, nostalgia.
Do you remember when APB was voted for at ModDb? No, not just last week, although obviously we're all waiting to hear the results from that. APB was voted for, and won, past awards over at ModDb. And the same goes for Reborn, as they, too, have won and managed to scoop up a "Most Hyped" award to much amusement.
Do you remember a while ago, as EA was gearing up to win our hearts and minds for C&C3, there was a screenshot contest? APB was there, too, with a number of accepted weekly finalists, which was actually a news update headline of days gone by. I tell you what, though: We remember, and we're trying to get some word from EA about this and hopefully get some fans the recognition and reward they deserve. And what ever happened to fixing up that Mod SDK? It's a long shot, but we'll try to score the community an officially updated and released Mod SDK, although for all mappers out there, our release is still the recommended option.
It has already been pointed out that in .994 there will be different vehicle limits. One of the affected vehicles is, of course, the Demolition Truck. We know, we know, already the beloved Demo is going to be nerfed, and it must be a little bit painful to hear that you will only be able to purchase, as a team, no more than four at once. Gone are the days of an endless wave of Demolition Trucks upon a weary, battered Soviet team on Ridge War (for more than one reason actually...), just as the days of annihilating an Allied base with 10 concurrent atom bomb strikes have since passed.
But what if you could make that jerk who just blasted you from around the corner with a Shock Trooper pay a price? The team is currently discussing some more changes in the overhaul of how Demolition Trucks are being used, and this time, we're looking at how the damage and points are doled out.
Currently, if you lose your Demo Truck to enemy fire, you deal no damage and get no credit. This leads drivers to prematurely detonating their Demo Truck. That's not a happy situation. Currently, if you lose your demo truck due to a purposeful triggering of the device, your teammates endure no penalty despite potentially surrounding you with basic infantry and artillery pieces and other weak stuff. Not a happy situation. Flip your demo truck? A functionless nuclear blast, that's about it.
The proposal is to add, essentially, a blast that will harm both sides. A demo truck driver can bravely charge into a base until the very last hitpoint is stolen away, without fear of losing his points and damage and suddenly be down by 1 death and 2400 credits all for nothing. An enemy team can sneak up on an escorted demo truck or a freshly built one, without worrying that the enemy will simply immediately trigger to spare his friends and spank the attackers. Points and credits will be given out as due, and if an empty demo truck inflicts casualties, the points will go directly to a side if the owning team managed to get damage with the blast. There will be no "neutral" trucks; points will always be given where earned.
The problem? Heh, as for memory lane is concerned, many Renegade vets might remember the old beacon exploit-- you could call for an ion cannon strike, then quit the server, leaving a weapon guaranteed to kill your own building but that your friends could not disarm. Teamkilling 'tards plague any game, and we want to minimize the potential for that in APB. Hopefully things will be different though. A Demo Truck can only do so much damage, costs over twice as much as a beacon did in Renegade (and there's no money trickle here), requires an active war factory, and you can't just leave to dodge the consequences and leave everybody guessing at what happened to their buildings. However, just to be sure, we have proposed that purposeful detonations of your own team's demo truck won't hurt your own buildings. This would let you still pop a Tanya or Volkov out of your base with ease in a "safe" manner, as long as your teammates are willing to also all die in the process.
These are our thoughts, what are yours? Please reply to the poll.
For King And Country: The Makings Of A Spy
Who here uses the spy? That's what I thought. We've got a lot of nostalgia and thinking back going on in this blog, and many will remember using Spies to great effect when you used to be able to purchase a-bomb signal flares freely-- slip past the Tesla Coil, and surprise 'em with a bang! Other than intel gathering though or the occasional good-luck kill or vehicle swipe, Spies these days just aren't worth it.
Of course, 994 aims to make every single unit fit into a niche and be a viable choice when it's time to purchase. We've summarized our goals for the spy before, but here is the full listing of spy abilities for APB 994:
- A spy may select the appearance of a Soviet rifle soldier, flamethrower, or shock trooper during purchase
- A spy may walk past automated Soviet defenses without prompting an attack
- A spy may enter any unoccupied Soviet vehicle at any time, even if it was purchased immediately before he attempted to enter
- A spy may freely switch to his pistol to kill Soviets (these appear as Soviet teamkills)
- A spy will appear as a Soviet to any players looking at him
- If a spy enters an enemy building, his team is informed audibly and he may then interact with it
- A spy may enter a Refinery or approach a Silo, and press a key to immediately determine Soviet funds
- A spy may enter any Soviet Power Plant to sabotage power to Tesla Coils and SAM Sites for around 30 seconds. After about 5 seconds, the Soviets are warned of the danger. For about 15 seconds after power comes back online, a power plant is immune to sabotage.
- A spy may enter a War Factory and determine enemy ground, sea, and air vehicle composition; stolen vehicles ditched in base do not show up in the readout, and the readout does not display information for units which are not present.
- A spy may enter a Barracks and determine enemy infantry composition. All composition reports are displayed in Allied team chat, and will appear on the Chat History viewer accessible at all times (however it will not be saved in the client chat log).
- A spy may enter a Sub Pen to determine enemy Submarine positions; the Soviets will likely notice that they've been pinged though
- A spy may enter a Radar Dome, and *this is important* as long as the Soviet Dome is active and unjammed at the time, the Allies get permanent access to enemy positions. If the Allied Radar Dome has been destroyed, this means the Allies effectively now have permanent, unjammable radar access for the rest of the match!
- A spy may enter a Construction Yard, with sabotage similar to that of a Power Plant; base repairs shut down for a limited time, the Soviets are likely warned some time after, and the spy may not sabotage again for a period of time after. Sorry commies, cannot comply, building in progress!
- Missile Silo scripts need to be reworked, and then include spy sabotage-- at the very least, intel on the next enemy strike and the ability to cancel a pending strike. At the most, a sneaky reset of the missile readiness to at least 50%.
- A spy may not sabotage directly a helipad, service depot, or base defense weapon
As you can see, this good ol' chap is getting quite the buff in terms of his abilities, allowing him to wreak some havoc on the enemy base, confuse their players, and do mean things to their vehicles. Seeing as how in 994 that Ore Trucks and Minelayers now count separately from normal vehicles, he'll also probably have a good chance to nab one or two or three of those as well.
You may have noticed some classic RA1 spy interactions finally seeing the light of day in APB, along with some creative new ones as well, based on themes and situations often found in the old game. While sending a spy in to disable power was not expressly in the RA series until RA2, we feel it is a viable option here. Keep in mind that it will not lengthen build times however, nor double your costs. Please take some time to complete the poll on the spy so we can know how you feel about these changes.
Rob From the Rich and Give to the Poor
The spy is not the only Allied unit that is getting an enhancement in 994. While unable to easily negotiate enemy defenses, thieves are able to quickly destroy the enemy's economy by stealing 50% of each player's funds, and then allocating it to the Allied players. Upon approaching a Silo or entering a Refinery, a thief may press a key to perform the transaction. Their team will be notified of the theft audibly and with a notification that will appear in team chat and also the history window, informing them of how much total was stolen as well as how much each player receives (it's annoying to divide 258029 credits by 13 players while being shot at by Soviet forces). However, thieves must return to base to re-purchase the thief class before stealing again.
As a Thief has no way of determining enemy cash reserves before stealing, it is advisable to use a Spy first as the transaction is one-time and irreversible for that Thief. In a way, this makes the Thief a risky investment. However, the Soviets will not notice the theft right away, and if you manage to get an entire APC full of Thieves into a Refinery, or up to a Silo? You end up stealing over 90% of the enemy funds. This might be a wise strategy if your team can afford it and the Soviets have been devoting time to mining, as the Soviets sure won't be able to afford ANYTHING once you hit them up but best of all, you'll have all that cash to convert into an assault force (or three) for the next trip to their base! For 994, it'll be a piece of cake to rob a Silo-- just approach the Silo and press a key. For 1.0 and beyond there will be a terminal you must access, however.
There will be no .995
994 will be the last "99X" release; It will be followed by 1.0 which contains new buildings and maps, which will be followed by 1.1 to correct any installer issues or missing files, 1.5 to add any balance changes or exploit fixes, 2.0 to include new maps, game logic such as superweapons, which will be followed by 2.1 to fix any last-second issues, and so on and so forth... maybe those actual elements will change, but that's how the numbering is gonna work from now on. Just because we reach "1.0" does not mean we quit, it just means we stopped using an inefficient, confusing, and cumbersome version name scheme.
Be advised that the server may be seeing some new changes coming along, as always. Big round of applause and a show of appreciation to the MP APB server staff, because without them, you wouldn't be able to play each day. Anways, in case you missed it, you can use now the !swap command to offer a team change operation to an enemy force, and if an enemy uses !swap within the time limit, you'll change teams. Useful to control your own team remixing if you want, or if you really, really hate to be Soviets on Bunkers. Also, Oxi's getting all fancy now, adding in colored text to the server messages to help you see them more clearly.
But did we mention that you might end up missing out on some functionality if you don't have the latest version of the scripts? Seriously, if you haven't updated to 3.0, perhaps it's time to think about an upgrade in that department. Oxi would like to ask everybody to be sure they update so they won't have trouble when they go to play, and on behalf of the APB team I'd like to ask you to update so you can help us test for bugs in the dll base that 994 is going to rely on and also so you have the best gameplay experience possible in both APB and Renegade.
You also might want to check their forums for announcements occasionally. And speaking of forums, there might be a useful little feature soon for people who play there and post here...
Grab Bag: Stuff you might've not heard about, stuff you haven't heard about yet
Tomorrow, the blog will be updated with an all-new random MS Paint drawing from PointlessAmbler, so he can still have some input.
Also this week, it's schooltime again for me, mjfabian, PA, and many other community members and staff-- we hope you all had a good break.
The forums have had a few changes made, including a grouping of the art/screenshots/photos topics and the addition of the Catfood Donation Center where posting is meaningless
If you own a newer Nintendo product, there is an Off-Topic sticky where you can post your friend codes and find the codes of other forum members
How would you feel if the game gave you an option to vote for another 5 minutes of play JUST ONCE, if the points are close or you've almost got that last building killed or your mammoth force is about to reach their base?
The Phase Transport has taken the backburner to the completion of other assets, sorry! It's not a main-line unit and doesn't quite factor into the current balance scheme as it was.
The next 994 internal build is going to include every tangible piece of updated work, textured or not. We'll see how that impacts the release of screenshots.
Easter Eggs will be included in 994
You can kill a Light Tank with a Tanya in RA1 if she fires first, one on one.
The 994 manual will contain a section for reviewing unit balance systems (tesla beats medium beats heavy beats light beats tesla) and also to point out strategies for how to effectively use an APC beyond the traditional homogeneous payload, or when you might want to actually keep an enemy structure alive.
A later update to this blog might feature a new civilian building currently being developed
We are currently discussing user-buildable base defenses
A blog update will probably also feature a new contest or three. Yeah, three sounds good!
Click here to download; WMV format This is just a simple video, playing around and trying out the feel of new sounds.
ACKART'S NINJA EDIT: Just a heads up guys, there are currently three sounds based off two Half Life projects that haven't been edited yet. The AK47 fire sound (Tour of Duty), the Rocket Launcher sound (Resident Evil: Cold Blood) and the M16's Three-Round-Burst sound (Tour of Duty). Just throwing some credits out here for those of you with sharp ears so we aren't accused of stealing. I received permission from the RECB staff (I worked on the team) and the ToD sounds will be edited before release.