About Shroud of the Avatar: Forsaken Virtues with
by wtf_dragon on May 21st, 2014
[A Public Forum post by Starr Long]
Thank you to our loyal backers of Shroud of the Avatar. Release 6 access for all backers at First Responder level and above begins this Thursday, May 22 at 10:30 AM Central Time. Release 6 access will end on Sunday, May 25 at 10:00 PM Central Time. Starting today, you can begin installing and patching (see instructions below), but login will not be enabled until Thursday morning.
After Release 5, I posted about my impressions of that release and our decision to make Release 6 the inaugural, once per quarter release focused mostly on polish and iteration. As our first attempt at this kind of release, I am quite pleased with the results, even if many of them were behind the scenes. While we definitely made some forward strides on polish, we spent a significant amount of time on laying the groundwork for future work on lighting, terrain, texturing, item security, data security, combat balancing, visual effects systems, etc. All that groundwork will yield some amazing things in future releases, even if in the near term it isn’t the most visible of changes. Below are the original/revised R6 deliverables, along with some extra notes and new deliverables in italics.
RELEASE 6, May 22 – 25, 2014:
- Visual Improvements: We really want to improve the quality of our visuals to a point that we feel competitive with modern games. To that end we are allocating time each release for some ongoing work. Here is just a short list of some of the things we are working on for Release 6 in the area of visual improvements:
- Lighting Fine-Tuning: With the switch to the new lighting model, we now have to retune our lighting levels across the board. Tuning and balancing the brightest day and the darkest night takes some time. It is a careful dance to get a strong contrast between well lit areas and dark shadows. We want light sources to mean something in underground areas and at night so they will be dark. This means having a torch and/or light spell handy is a really good thing. We also introduced tone mapping in R4 which is a technique that simulates your eye irising back and forth. This technique also requires careful tuning to get the brightening and lightening just right. Tune it too bright and we obviate the need for any light sources, tune it too dark and you won’t even notice it.
- We went through about a bazillion different parameters over the last few weeks trying to get to that “just right” spot. Just yesterday, we hit on a combination of bloom with tone mapping that we think is going to get us the closest we have come yet. You can see the initial results in this build of this new combination. I think we are way closer but there is still work to do here.
- Shaders: Right now we use very simple specular and bump mapping shaders. We are going to investigate some other shader types including Relief and Detail that might create more details in our textures.
- Research into these new shader types ultimately led to a dead end but in the process we discovered and fixed some issues with how we were doing bump mapping on our terrain.
- Characters: We have several efforts in progress including getting our skin shader happy with the new lighting, deformation issues with the female arms, polishing movement and combat animations, and fixing wearables sorting issues. After we get those issues sorted we can move on to making hair better but we are waiting for our transition to Unity 5 for that so we can take advantage of some new features there.
- We made some good progress here and got the skin happy with our new lighting, but we still think we can take it further. We also decided we need to completely replace the character heads because we felt they were just not attractive enough. This replacement is now being tested so they may or may not make it in during R6.
- Environment Art: For performance optimization we had originally kept the number of triangles in our buildings, walls, dungeons to an absolute minimum. Recent performance analysis suggests we are not bound by this constraint so we are going back through and adding geometry to some assets so that they will look better in lighting. For Release 6 we are focusing on Dungeon and Castle Walls to make them not be such flat planes.
- Player to Player secure trade: Did you discover something cool you wish to give your friend? Need to share some potions with a party member? Did you craft something amazing you want to sell? Secure trade is the answer and will allow you to make exchanges of goods between you and other players.
- The amount of work on changing how our item architecture works to secure the data was quite large. We really want this particular feature to be exactly what we say: secure. That meant in the end we couldn’t rush this in just one release cycle, it will take us two. In the meantime though we did create a temporary way for players to give each other things by just dragging the items out of their inventory and on top of the other player.
- Crafting: We now have specific animations and tools for each crafting table so we will replace the default animation in Release 6 with these specifics. We will also take a pass on alignment and sorting issues related to crafting tables. As a stretch goal we may try to add some more sound and visual effects to crafting and harvesting
- Combat: Our first pass at abilities in R5 did not include secondary effects like stun, knockback, root, etc., nor did many of them have visual effects. And in some cases they didn’t work at all (I’m looking at you Light spell!). For R6, we will be finishing out those abilities and adjusting the casting animations to work better with equipped weapons. We are also fixing some blending bugs that prevented many of the weapon animations from displaying properly. Once we address all these issues, we can resume work on card combat, deck building and the death system for Release 7 and 8. We are also going to take a pass at better color coding for combat floaties. Finally we will work weapon sheathing and unsheathing functionality so that we can explicitly know if you are ready to talk or kill!
- We also added support for separating the upper and lower body in the animation system which lets the avatars move and attack simultaneously!
- Looting: We are making some architectural changes to how we create, store, and transmit data in containers (chests, corpses, player houses, inventory, etc.) that should fix some of the looting exploits, like the one where all players could loot the same corpse equally, and corpses could be looted multiple times just by exiting and reentering a scene. We are also going to work on fixing issues related to targeting a corpse.
- Emotes: We will be working on some improvements to emotes that include looping emotes (dancing, conversation, etc.) as well as adding audio to them (clapping, laughing, etc.). We will also make it so when you are chatting we will play the convo emote automatically.
- Animals: Currently all our animals (bears, wolves, etc.) are purchased assets and the skinning, rigging, and animations for them is not meeting our quality standards, so we are going to reskin and rig them so that we can redo their animations.
- Dialog: We are going to do an overall sanity pass on all dialogue, making sure it meets our standards on quest accessibility, making NPCs respond to more things, and that as many responses as possible are accessible through the dialogue tree.
- Navigation: We will continue to iterate on the overworld map with more animations, texture improvements and party member locations when they are inside a scene. We are also going to introduce a standard visual for entrance and exit locations on maps. For now that will take the form of an archway.
- While we finished some of this work we had started before on the 2D map the bulk of R6 was spent researching tools for creating the 3D overworld style we are returning to that I posted about shortly after R5.
- Player Housing: We have added/updated 4 new player houses (1 Rustic, Updated Lord Founder, Lord Benefactor, and Baron Benefactor). As with R5 we will no longer impose a time limit on ownership. However we may reset ownership at some point over the weekend to allow more folks time to experience housing.
So now that it is clear what you can expect, we should also be as clear about what you should not expect:
- Combat: Combat does not yet include random dealing, decks, combos, or advancement.
- Performance: We have only done rudimentary optimizations and we do not yet have a full suite of performance fallbacks (LODs, etc.). This means the game will be quite slow on older machines, and due to memory usage, might be unstable in certain conditions (like densely decorated areas). With each release we will be doing further optimizations and adding to our fallbacks to improve performance.
- Crafting: The crafting system is in the game as a framework, but is still missing some key components like repair, events, and enhancement. Skill checks are also not in yet, so results are always 100% successful. Long term, the percentage chance to make items will depend on a myriad of variables and can result in a variety of results including: making the item desired, making a simpler version of the item that will need to be enhanced, or making a damaged version of the item that needs repair.
- Game Loop: Release 6 was a further iteration on our rudimentary game loop, but it is still very bare bones. Expect this to expand with each subsequent release but it won’t be truly complete until we hit Beta later this year
- Advanced Player Housing: There are some advanced features for player housing, including waterfront properties, basements, home exterior decorations, and ceiling decorations that are not yet integrated. Expect to see these appear in future releases.
- Visual Quality: Efforts to improve visual quality are ongoing. This started last release with increases to our art staff (technical artist) and continued this release with tons of work on lighting and shaders. We will continue to iterate on these until we have highly competitive visuals.
Here are links to instructions and known issues. Thank you again for your continued support. This is truly the most amazing community we have ever worked with and we are proud to be on this journey with you.