A giant heap of new information and developer insight on the upcoming 1.2 release, and some media to boot.
Posted by holdenmcclure on Dec 22nd, 2011
The things that modders do can often seem inexplicable and enigmatic, especially when it's outside the context of a minor modification, such as adding an individual weapon. One thing I empathize with most when looking at overhauls and game modifications is trying to find a theme or a central design philosophy with a project.
One focus we strive to avoid is the feeling of a compilation mod. It's undoubted that L.U.R.K. is indebted to the modding community, and has learned and borrowed from it since it's inception, but despite that we've tried our hardest to have personality and a consistent theme that feels more pieces of a puzzle rather then dishes in the sink. If ever there be something we used as an existing asset, it's rare if not nonexistent that our grubby hands don't molest and morph it into a more polished and fitting mold to our overall design.
Of course, that is in contrast with garnering attention in the modding community frequently. We always wanted to pride ourselves on an overall design and product that feels like a beefed up and polished product based off the original Shadow of Chernobyl, but one of the things that lifted L.U.R.K. from obscurity was the dynamic light threshold in the AI, allowing sneaking (although never perfected in the previous iterations).
While we spend most of our time trying to deliver a consistent, polished product, it's really the new features that get people on board, but it's the polish and overall design that keeps people playing. This is the lesson I was taught hardest with L.U.R.K. 1.1.
There's a thing called the novelty of change which victimizes modders and players equally. This is a phenomena relative to change for the sake of change that warrants excitement in a gimmicky fashion. This is something I've always been aware of, but despite that, I still unconsciously fall victim to it. This is self evident by things like the bloom in L.U.R.K. 1.1, and other things that weren't popular additions that lost a lot of fans previously.
L.U.R.K. 1.2 in a lot of ways is trying to reverse the damage that may have been inflicted by some of these decisions. Of course, some things are a simple conflict of interest, but compromise is necessary sometimes. Some quirks of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. are key to enjoyment for many players, and compromising those things has proven near fatal.
I've spoken much on the subject of artifacts, and the decision was mostly unpopular. As quirky, contrived and unbalanced the basic vanilla implementation of artifacts were in vanilla Shadow of Chernobyl, it's a cherished pastime of the franchise and not something you can take away willy nilly.
Despite that, things like Fireball artifacts nullifying radiation, Moonlight nullifying stamina etc... I never gained such an attachment to artifacts. People looked at artifacts like a gameplay element, but to me it was only good at breaking existing gameplay mechanics rather then adding or improving them, and I stick by that. Despite that, 1.1 was met without compromise on that issue, and instead of fixing it, we removed it in favor of making them an economic item.
This decision proved especially unpopular not only for the aforementioned reasons, but the economy was too exploitable via other means to actually warrant artifacts as an important component of the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. franchise. The economy has always been an ongoing struggle, and it's largely due to my own fault, being a lack of attention to detail and resolving issues the way they should be resolved due to difficulty. It only takes one false value in the buy/sell values to break everything and people can use it as an infinite source of income.
So something had to be done in that respect, our attempts to establish a new system failed miserably and we had to look at things over again. Luckily for me, Panzerdraco has always been a much better and more organized number cruncher then myself, and he's personally spearheaded the economy himself in order to fix the issues and establish a proper, more rewarding, less broken economy.
There are several facets, or bullets to the economy that people will notice first and foremost, as well as many structured aspects that keep it balanced and in line. First there's something that hasn't changed very much, being the monster parts. Monster parts are a guaranteed drop just as before, and act as a basic form of income for the player. Obviously the premise of most of the presence in the zone is the economy, and most the reasons for the presence of S.T.A.L.K.E.R.'s is to make money, aside from specific factions and ecologists. Ecologists research products of the zone including monster parts, and selling these nets funds. You kill a mutant, you loot a lightweight mutant part, it sells for a moderate but not expensive price due to it's somewhat prevalent nature, etc..
That aspect hasn't changed significantly, but the price is lower then before, so taking dog tails, flesh eyes and boar hooves isn't always a good idea later on. As you're probably aware, the weight limit in L.U.R.K. is lower and more realistic to promote decision making when choosing loadouts and things to pick from corpses.
Then of course comes equipment. For various reasons, we've had to plummet the sell value of guns, ammo, supplies, and pretty much any form of combat related items. Some of the more tricky players have found ways to exploit this with dragging bodies acting as supply trucks to net profit from traders, and so on and so forth. Traders will treat your weapons like they turned to rust the moment you laid your hands on them for this reason.
Of course, there are other means we're using to moderate this issue. Since encumbrance is a non issue for dead bodies, we've developed a more Diablo-esque inventory system that relies not only on weight, but space, utilizing grids as a means for limiting your inventory. This also plays into effect in the bodies of the fallen, so item hoarding and dragging is a no go.
The primary of many issues with L.U.R.K. 1.1 economy was the artifacts. In all honesty, there's really no excuse for us not having done this before. In vanilla, the placement of artifacts is quite frankly retarded and indefensible. Hoards of artifacts inexplicably and indiscriminately litter the beaten paths of places like The Garbage and Agropram Research institute. It made the idea of artifact 'hunting' laughable, and on top of that, it forced us to make a poor compromise in 1.1. Since they're so abundant, how do we moderate their value? There really was no answer to this, and money really became a manner of course for any player with eyesight, and the economy was no challenge to anyone.
One of the key factors to economy isn't just making it balanced, it's about making it important. As balanced as you can make it, it won't matter much if you can find an abundance of ammunition, consumables, artifacts, and outfits simply lying around at your disposal. The problem in vanilla was that economy was more of an optional luxury, and the problem in 1.1 is that it was too exploitable, and consumables were too easy to come by. In response to this, medical supplies, ammo and outfits are much more scarce in number both in loot and the world, no more stashes filled with 1000 rounds of hydroshock. Fear not though, we'll still be rewarding exploration with our own hidden stashes, and not all standard stashes will be gone, more so moderated. In the case of outfits though, you'll really need to buy them as opposed to find them. This is really key in making the economy imperative and not just there, and that seemed like the most logical way of doing it.
This is probably our largest breakthrough in 1.2, and filling a gap that needed to be filled properly before. We sat down, and nuked every single artifact spawn in the game, but fear not, because in it's place, we've worked on a system that randomly, albeit rarely spawns artifacts properly within anomaly fields. This provides re playability and challenge to finding artifacts due to it's random nature. Of course, we've also placed extremely rare artifacts not locatable in anomaly fields on key hidden locations in the game. We've tried our hardest to make apt use of otherwise unused and barren locations in Shadow of Chernobyl, and you'll have to test your platforming abilities and exploration intuition to navigate your way around finding artifacts.
However, artifacts not littering the ground in plain sight makes them much more difficult to find as you can imagine, and while difficulty is a welcome change in the case of artifact hunting, without something to guide you it's little more then an aimless wander. We'll be supplementing that with an artifact detector much like you've seen in Clear Sky and Call or Pripyat. Bound to the bolt hotkey, with detector in one hand, and bolt in the other, you'll be tracking down artifacts by gauging the frequency of bleeps and bloops. Finding hidden artifacts will have you jumping across beams and landing on buildings, or jumping into hidden locations.
Putting the aside locating artifacts, we've implemented a new system for artifact effects by only allowing one artifact slot at a time. Previously, by mixing radiation absorption artifacts and other combat centric artifacts, you could exploit the system of compromise and work around nullified bleeding, lowered bullet damage etc.. We've changed all the artifact effects to be more balanced, and the aforementioned solution should fix the problems of the past. As for the specifics of what they do, you'll have to wait and see.
The primary drawback in artifact usage for most of them is radiation. Unprotected use brings about radiation poisoning. Slowly accumulating radiation poisoning obviously isn't a very fair compromise for the benefits you receive from artifacts, so we have a means of counteracting that problem. This is actually killing two birds with one stone, as many people have complained about the limited amount of exploration in irradiated areas you can do. Removing radiation from those areas like Pripyat and Radar is obviously no solution, and what we've come up with is a pretty neat system.
You've probably seen gas masks in the past, usually with an obnoxious HUD obscuring overlay. What we've got in mind is shifting this implementation into a core component of the game. Gas masks, much like their real life counterparts have disposable filters required to properly feed clean oxygen into your lungs. Gas masks have a varying degree of efficiency, masks and filters can be purchased to allow exploration and artifact use without radiation penalty. Although they come at a cost, and filter use is finite depending on the saturation of radiation, and the the efficiency of the mask.Although the payoff is worth is, allowing artifact hunt in irradiated areas, and the benefits of radiated artifacts. This should provide a satisfying balance and a rewarding gameplay element to the game, as well as give more focus to the in game economy, while promoting exploration in areas otherwise untouched. In terms of presentation, we want it to look nice without being too obfuscating, we'll have a nice amount of touches and aesthetic elements to make it noticeable without being ugly.
Moving back to artifact's being randomly spawned in anomalies, this is largely a product of chance and time. Every night there is a low probability for every individual anomaly to spawn an artifact. Seeing as how this is a product of time, there is an obvious exploit you may be thinking of regarding this system, sleeping. Sleep to your hearts content until every damned anomaly in the zone is shitting artifacts. This is obviously something we considered, and for that reason hunger is making a comeback, and it's a bit more demanding then before. In tandem with that, sleep will be in set locations, or sleep zones, and interacting with them as seen here will allow you to sleep.
You may recognize this from Call of Pripyat. A much more polished and aesthetically appealing variant of the haphazard 'sleeping bag' of the past. Regardless, with enough food stocked it would still be simple enough to exploit this system, so sleeping will have a cooldown only allowing a finite amount of sleeping within a certain period of time. This system will provide incentive for sleep, as it will boost the probability of finding artifacts as well as being able to avoid treacherous nights, without being exploitable.
Of course all things considered, the basic interaction in combat with both NPC's and mutants is the primary component of any S.T.A.L.K.E.R. game. In 1.1, recoil had some issues as well as being somewhat overbearing for many players, and NPC's were generally deemed to accurate, especially with specific weapons. There really isn't much I can do to explain this component, but I can tell you that your issues and complaints have been addressed and considered. Just know that Master will still be unrelenting in difficulty, and it's not for the feint of heart. Bullet damage is a 1:1 ratio in Master difficulty, and complaining about how hard it is on that difficulty should yield ridicule, it won't be unrealistically hard, but it is not designed around your convenience. Play S.T.A.L.K.E.R. difficulty if you're looking for fairness.
A general rule in 1.2 as is with 1.1 is that taking cover will be the difference between winning and losing. Being out in the open will take your life quickly. Sidestrafing to avoid fire doesn't work anymore like it did in vanilla. Be smart and pick your battles. Note that we've moderated the detection range to fix broken quests and to help the player choose his battles.
Of course smaller details are always subject to change, Panzer has looked at diary and encyclopedia entries, as well as other minor aspects that tend to be overlooked in the scale of this project. Thing like HUD blood and other unpopular additions are scrapped in favor of actual on display health bars and such. We've also added more variety and quality to the player models.
Gameplay mechanics as a whole have taken severe leaps and strides, and it'll feel like going from 1.05 to 1.1, except this time it will be a good thing. Although it should suffice to say that the same amount of detail is being placed into the aesthetic presentation of the environment. I've already released a fair number of media for L.U.R.K. 1.2, and it should be obvious that complaints like overbearing bloom, flat ground textures, and various nuances and improvements I've seen to myself have been implemented. As well as a general restructuring and restyling of the game in general. Among the simple complaints of bloom, there were complaints of the game simply looking too bright and cheerful. We've augmented the weather with a much more gloomy and overcast appearance, while still trying to retain the beauty that shouldn't be seperate from the still living breathing environment of the zone. It's a tough balance, and not everyone will agree, but I think I've really nailed it this time. Among the changes, you can look forward to new rendering capabilities like depth of field, proper motion blur and volumetric lighting.
Bravo if you managed to go through all of this, I hope you'll have gained more confidence and excitement for our upcoming release. I haven't covered everything but hopefully I've shed some light on what we're doing here, and hopefully you can agree with most of what we've done.