It's been nearly half a year since L.U.R.K. 1.1 was released, and since then we've had a lot of time to absorb feedback and responses from the community. Of course given that we're not a single entity or a hivemind it can be difficult to weave through the varying responses and perspectives of the community. It's a subject of compromises and design choices that can prove difficult when throwing so many different individuals into the mixture, but there are varying topics that can be viewed as popular opinion or consensus when considering the views of the community, and the major bars inhibiting enjoyment and accessibility to a wider range of players.
Looking at one aspect would be the bloom/HDR in the original L.U.R.K. 1.1 release. The original intention of this was to give some more dynamics to the lighting, and to make it more realistic and appealing to observe the contrast between a fully clear afternoon and a dim sunset. The basic premise behind bloom or any rewording for the term is to reflect the way the eye perceives light and how the eye adjusts to perceive different degrees of sunlight.
When the eye is subject to less total light saturation, it compensates or adjusts and subsequently intakes more light, which can give bright lights a degree of intensity when viewed in otherwise dark places. This can obscure or bleed light and give the 'bloom' effect that people associate with the effect people see emulated in games. However in the middle of a the day, the eyes have typically adjusted to a higher saturation of light, and that bloom effect is only perceived typically when viewing a very bright white surface or staring directly into the sun (please take my word on this rather then trying yourself).
One of the problems we had with our bloom was an unfortunate issue with odd cutoff in the skybox. For some reason we've yet to understand there was an inexplicable clear layer of lines extruding from the skybox and being that we were only using an existing rendering function to create this bloom effect, we didn't know how to get rid of it. This was an unfortunate issue and we overlooked it in favor of the overall effect being deemed more valuable in our eyes, this was probably a product of wanting to overlook it from the amount of effort we delved into it.
Another issue with bloom was one that wasn't being particularly fair to us, being public perception and stigma surrounding bloom in general. It's not an unknown fact that bloom can be overused or used improperly in many modern games. It's become somewhat of a buzzword to insult a game for the very fact that it has bloom and many view it negative to have it at all no matter how it's shown. Arguably there were times when we had used it in excess, the only time I can think of is during the morning phase before the afternoon. Otherwise personally I was very satisfied with the effect.
However this just wasn't the understanding we could communicate to players. There were many fair and understandable points brought up by naysayers. Whether or not bloom is the product of realism or proper emulation of the way the eye perceives light, it's not always correct to support realism or at least not a global consensus that realism is the proper way to approach any aspect of the game. Shadow of Chernobyl, intentionally or not had very sterile, bleak looking environments that are often convoluted with detail whether it be realistic or not. Many people prefer this aspect of Shadow of Chernobyl, and hold it for artistic value that Clear Sky and Call of Pripyat didn't capture when enhancing realism in it's X-Ray engine iterations.
Looking back at comments across the board regarding the bloom function, exploring options for different lighting and rendering, and considering the problems with the previous build, we decided we could meet at a point without compromise, and change the way the lighting looked without the bloom function present. This can be found in screenshots added in the previous most recent news article, or more that I'll try to add more frequently onto ModDB.
Making compromises regarding realism to appeal to artistic direction is something that we wholeheartedly endorse. Creating any fictional setting is a compromise on realism, and realism isn't a be all end all design philosophy in a game that emphasizes immersion. L.U.R.K. aims to improve the aspects of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. that it does well or aims to do well, in a way that's more ambitious and more of a leap that may polarize those who adhere strictly to source material. While it's an overhaul mod in the sense that it changes many aspects of the game that doesn't make it feel like a patch, it isn't an overhaul in the sense that you're suddenly playing Duke Nukem when you throw L.U.R.K. in your S.T.A.L.K.E.R. directory. There are compromises that are made when fulfilling an ultimately subjective perspective of what S.T.A.L.K.E.R.'s core elements and setting would best be emphasized by, but those changes give it personality and options in a way that other mods don't, without burning too many bridges.
When you look at most screenshots of L.U.R.K., the distinctions are obvious both technically and artistically, and given it's fairly large departure from the source material, it can be easy to point fingers in and claim foul when you notice the much higher level of color saturation and light contrast, and lively vegetation. If you believe that it strays from the original art direction then you'd be 100% correct.
The vanilla (unmodified) artistic direction of S.T.A.L.K.E.R is easily described as bleak, sterile, and decayed. As an artistic direction there's nothing necessarily wrong with taking that perspective on the environment, and it certainly supports the oppressive atmosphere of the game. However I feel that a different take on the idea is important to give the most powerful effect.
Realism is on obvious influence on the art direction of L.U.R.K., and while I did emphasize that it's not a defining aspect of design, when on the subject of immersion it's something that should be supported if it doesn't compromise other important aspects of the game. When looking at L.U.R.K. in The Cordon for example, you'll notice much longer draw distance, less grainy mipmaps, less barren bushy grass, more color saturation and lighting contrast, more frequent clear weather etc... The distinction is obvious and you can see it prefers the real over the surreal at first glance.
However simply pulling from realism alone is a fairly boring direction to take alone, and thankfully it's a design perspective used in moderation amongst other ideas that I'll elaborate on right now. If you're familiar with GSC and the inspiration they took when designing Shadow of Chernobyl, you'll know that they used such source material as a famous Russian novel 'Roadside Picnic' when designing the game. Suffices to say it's obvious that S.T.A.L.K.E.R. drifts in many directions unique to itself, but I felt like some aspects of the game would be best pulled back into direction of the source material, 'Roadside Picnic'. Roadside Picnic speaks of dramatic sunsets and apparent nature surplus amidst The Zone left alone by modern civilization. Which is apparent in photographs of The Exclusion Zone as depicted in real life.
However it should be noted that in the book and the game, as per the sci-fi circumstances that give birth to the unique aspects of both artistic depictions, the effect of the NPP meltdown are exaggerated, giving a stronger 'post apocalyptic' vibe to the environment. Balancing these two perspectives, we decided to make the apparent effects of the NPP more exaggerated as you approach the center of the Exclusion Zone. Vegetation starts to shed the healthy greenery as depicted in the Cordon, and stronger reflects the fictional depiction of The Exclusion Zone, as depicted by the vanilla image in The Cordon. This feels like the best compromise between the two, and gives a more dramatic feeling of progression as you approach the NPP. Although the changes are subtle and not always consciously noted by players.
I elaborate on this because it's been a point of contentment when people consider L.U.R.K. vs. different options. I'll say that the direction isn't easily depicted in images and is better viewed when considering the experience as a whole, and that there's been much deliberation over the aesthetic and that it shouldn't be dismissed over minor aspects in the grand scope of the project. Those who are on familiar terms with me understand that I've had an ongoing one sided struggle towards providing the most visually compelling S.T.A.L.K.E.R. experience, but I feel as though I've been under the stigma that comes with appealing to a fanbase that fell in love with the original design, and will often feel as though changes of any sort will damage the original, and often walk towards experience that adhere more strictly to the original design. I feel as though it's important to elaborate the direction we've taken and why so that people can better appreciate the changes that we make.
I've gone to great lengths to defend the direction that we've taken in many regards, but I don't wish to defend some of the mistakes we've made under the category of aesthetics, out of simply overlooking issues or growing tired of fixing them, prior to our long period of hiatus before we came back onto the scene. One of which being grass textures. Somehow, some way, the bump map and specular map for the grass texture didn't make it's way into the release build (what a blunder), and the ground texture not covered by vegetation looked bland and vaguely carpeted. Some of the mistakes we made out of exhaustion made many lose faith in our ability to produce a polished product, and hopefully the builds we release in the future will help repair that damage for our fans, and hopefully expand our fanbase to a larger audience.
Another widely contested aspect of the release build of L.U.R.K. 1.1 is the degree of recoil. The distinction is obvious when compared to vanilla or even most other modifications to the original formula, and many feel as though it's too strong. This from a realism standpoint and a design standpoint is difficult to gauge. Recoil isn't only effected by the gun itself, there's also the consideration of how the wielder compensates for the recoil. It's an extremely common design philosophy for gun balance to design recoil under the assumption that the recoil compensation is done for you, which is also the means that are taken in the original Shadow of Chernobyl, or more specifically, the 'cam_relax' variable in the weapon configurations.
This is touchy issue because 'Shadow of Chernobyl' is often regarded as a hardcore game, and whatever that word entails, when in all honestly, I find when viewing the vanilla gun mechanics, they're fairly shallow and simple. The recoil compensates for itself and is extremely low, and the bullet cone is fairly static albeit large. Ignoring player placement and cover mechanics, it's little more then point and shoot and wait for the gun to fire in the direction you want it to. The original design not only does a poor job of emphasizing realism, it doesn't give you much control over how it behaves and gives very little distinction between a good player and a bad one. When ignoring the gunplay in S.T.A.L.K.E.R., there's very little else in terms of actual challenge and interaction, which is to be expected of any shooter be it an FPSRPG in this case or any other FPS variation. Gunplay in vanilla Shadow of Chernobyl is the strongest argument for mods, and I have a hard time viewing them in any way other then poorly done.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. brought many new concepts to the table, and created a palpable surreal interpretation a unique setting in gaming, and for that reason many were willing to overlook some of the less appreciable aspects of Shadow of Chernobyl and even the franchise as a whole. People who have been fans of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. since 2005 or for a long time at the very least have a strong association with the aspects of Shadow of Chernobyl be it good or bad. This makes it difficult for me as a designer to make choices, because when you changes things for an audience which is inherently S.T.A.L.K.E.R. fans, given the prerequisite of owning the original game, it's very difficult to change things about the game without burning the bridges that the original fans are walking on. So instead of looking at a change and instantly perceiving it as wrong, I ask you to analyze the aspects of L.U.R.K. with a more open mind before coming to any drastic conclusions.
This is what I ask when looking at weapon design in L.U.R.K.. This is something that I'll have difficulty having an open mind discussing, as I simply view the standard gun mechanics as poor at best. In light of complaints regarding the weapon recoil being too strong, we've toned down the base recoil, and subsequently changed some weapons and how they interact with each other. One of the main ones being the effectiveness of the SKS being an easily obtainable higher caliber rifle, and the overall effectiveness of the pump action shotguns.
Overall the design philosophy when we built the L.U.R.K. weapons recognizes that recoil instead of large base bullet cones retains the difficulty of firearm combat while giving a more broad skill threshold, and giving the user more opportunity to distinguish themselves as effective gunslingers. This should make gunplay more intense and engaging while also making it more realistic, which certainly doesn't hurt.
Panzerdraco's Addendum: I'm actually at fault for the problem of recoil - the severity of it is actually a bug I overlooked before release. Will be fixed in the new patch and will be far less silly.
Also get on Steam more, Holden.
This has always been a touchy subject and a strong point of contention when regarding it's implementation in L.U.R.K.. Artifacts in the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. franchise and most likely every modification has featured combat attributes associated with them. It is without a doubt that removing these combat attributes is a very stark change to the original formula, and many found it not only wrong but offensive to remove these attribute from artifacts.
The decision we made to remove artifact attributes has probably caught us more flack then any other decision we've made with L.U.R.K.. I however strongly dispute the standard implementation of artifacts and will continue to abstain from reintroducing them via the standard way.
When I work on L.U.R.K., the core concepts that I consider whenever I do anything to change or add any aspect to the game is balance, depth, and immersion. Each play a role in supporting each other and frequently require compromise in order to achieve the best result. When I looked at Artifacts, I simply could not justify Artifact attributes even when looking at any one of those three concepts alone. When I consider balance, it only serves to hurt the way certain gameplay mechanics interact with each other. For example, the fireball artifact decreases the rate in which you intake radiation. When you stack them, it makes you virtually impervious to radiation and thus eliminates it as a gameplay mechanic. Likewise for 'moonlight' making stamina a near nonexistent consideration. It didn't add more depth or increase gameplay mechanics, it compromised them, and for what?
Looking at it from an immersion standpoint, you think, well attaching these artifacts gives me arbitrary combat benefits that don't really have any rhyme or reason to their supposed scientific properties, and are simply something that you are forced to overlook when observed with any level of scrutiny regarding realism or plausibility even. It sacrifices depth, balance, and immersion and to this day I've yet to understand how it would benefits the game as a whole or subsequently it's vision, especially when you consider that the entire reason S.T.A.L.K.E.R.'s roam The Zone is to collect them and sell them for profit, but I digress.
Am I satisfied with the way they're implemented in vanilla S.T.A.L.K.E.R.? No, although that's not to say that I'm satisfied with the way they are in L.U.R.K. either. There are still sloppy issues from vanilla remaining in L.U.R.K.. They're scattered everywhere in plain site making the task of locating them seem fairly trivial, like they're almost insulting you as a user to make artifact hunting seem like a challenge. They don't reflect the improvements that Clear Sky and Call of Pripyat made to artifact hunting, by creating anomaly fields respective to the type of artifact they surround, and give it an interesting design and appealing challenge to obtain them with artifact detectors.
Sure I'd like to have a system like that in L.U.R.K., or Shadow of Chernobyl for that matter, but implementing a system like that is a challenge worthy of it's own and will probably only come into fruition much later if ever. I plan to improve the system with artifacts but I'm not going backward. We've decided for the time being to make them more valuable, but to increase their weight so as to not turn the Economy into a joke the way some perceive it in our current build.
There are many more subjects, changes, and things I could talk about but I've already gone on for quite some time. I'm running out of energy and you're probably running low on patience if you haven't stopped reading already. I'll summarize some of the changes we've made by concisely stating we've modified the HUD to no longer feature the blood on screen effect, and restored the more standard bar indicators to the HUD, we've changed the NPC characteristics to have less bugs with low light detection and long distance detection etc.. All in all it's a product of labor over personal and community concerns and I think you'll be pleased with the result.
I leave the comments with suggestions for what we could further elaborate on, what kind of things you'd like to see and what we can do to improve what you remember from the previous build, and as always be specific and I'll be more inclined to respond. Thank you for your time.
-Holden, L.U.R.K. Project Lead