Post news RSS A few development topics

Development has slowed down a lot recently, but OpenRA is far from dead. I wanted to write something to bridge the news gap until our next official news post, so here’s a brief update on a couple of recent projects. We hope to ship these plus many other changes in a new playtest series starting in a few weeks.

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One big change affects how we package and distribute our “official” OpenRA builds on Linux. For many years we have automatically generated a deb package, but then relied on downstream packages for other distributions. This has worked well in most respects, but sometimes delays in updates would strand players on older versions, stopping them from playing online. Another long-standing issue on many distros is the (lack of) support for installing playtests and releases at the same time, as players are able to on Windows and macOS.

Our solution to these problems is to adopt the AppImage packaging format, which allows us to distribute a portable version of OpenRA that should work on most modern Linux distributions. AppImages can exist alongside normal distro packages and even other versions of OpenRA, which makes it perfect for trying out playtest versions without overwriting the stable release. We will be retiring our deb packages and OBS repository as part of this change, but fear not because stable OpenRA releases are also available on Flathub if you prefer a “proper” installation that integrates more closely with your system.

OpenRA Download page

A sneak-preview of the new download page featuring Linux AppImages.

Our modding community has continued to be a major focus, driven in a large part by active discussions with and Pull Requests from the modders themselves. We have recently achieved two major modding milestones which we are looking forward to support from the next playtest:

  • Feature parity between the Mod SDK and the main OpenRA mods: the Mod SDK can now package Linux AppImages alongside the existing macOS .apps and Windows installers. Mods now also integrate properly with the online and in-game server lists (no more "Unknown Mod (id)"), and modders can define their own acknowledgements text to be displayed in the in-game Credits dialog.
  • Improved tools and documentation for mod updates: Updating mods to a newer OpenRA engine has historically been difficult and prone to errors. We have developed a completely new OpenRA.Utility command that significantly improves on the old command for semi-automating the update procedure. More information about this tool and how to use it can be found on the Mod SDK Wiki.

Another major project over the last few months has been identifying and eliminating performance bottlenecks in the graphics renderer. These changes have roughly doubled the FPS that can be achieved on many systems, which is great news for for Tiberian Sun and some of the ambitious community mods where modest systems previously struggled to achieve a stable 60 FPS. It is useful for our default mods too, because less time spent rendering the game means more time is available to smooth over other performance hiccups that can occur during large battles, resulting in a smoother play experience.

The main driver for this work has been a project to improve OpenRA’s performance on the latest Raspberry Pi devices. These changes have improved performance from a painful 10 FPS during large battles (using the Red Alert main menu as a test case) to a more tolerable 20 FPS. We are still not happy with performance on the Pi, and have identified several areas in the game code that could be targeted to improve performance further. We hope to be able to officially support a Raspbian release in the future once performance has improved to an acceptable level.

Raspberry Pi Performance

Renderer improvements (red and orange lines) significantly improve performance on a Raspberry Pi 3B+.
The next target for optimisation will be the tick_time (light blue line).

The upcoming playtest includes several other great features that I haven’t covered above as well as the usual set of iterative balance tweaks and bug fixes. Keep an eye on the development changelog and release milestone over the next few weeks if you are curious about the full feature set and progress towards a release.

At the end of May we made the jump to a new forum, splitting away from the old Sleipnir’s Stuff content. See this thread for more details. This move opens up a number of opportunities, such as resurrecting our plans (which were prototyped and then shelved in 2016 due to lack of web developers) to include an in-game authentication system that can be used to securely identify yourself to game servers and other players, instead of relying on insecure passwords or IP addresses. This may not be completed in time for the next release, but if it isn’t then we plan to make it a priority for the following one.

We still receive a lot of questions about a release date for the Tiberian Sun mod, and unfortunately the answer has not changed in the last year: we don’t know, but it won’t be soon unless we can attract new developers with the right skills to help. Progress is still being made on gameplay features (e.g. we recently merged support for placing gates on top of walls, and the special logic for tiberium critters), but a release is blocked by a handful of critical bugs and missing features that cut deep into some of the oldest and ugliest parts of OpenRA’s code. Resolving these issues takes a significant amount of work, and we currently only have one person (with very limited time) with the knowledge required to tackle them.

Tiberian Sun mod

Tiberian Sun progress has all but stalled due to lack of manpower.

While the mod is broadly playable, it is still missing some important features (e.g. super weapons) and other important features contain game-breaking bugs (e.g. subterranean units, cloak generators). We would have to disable these features if we wanted to release a public build now (like we did in the early days of Red Alert, Tiberian Dawn, and Dune 2000), and try to rebalance the rest of the game around their absense. This is not a path we want to repeat after our experiences with Red Alert.

OpenRA’s Red Alert mod is well known in the C&C community for including a collection of arbitrary gameplay changes that were not in the original game or series. Many of these changes were introduced in the early days of OpenRA to help balance the game and make it play well despite missing core gameplay features (back then these were things like like 5 infantry sharing the same cell or a proper implementation of the “classic” engineer behaviour). Over time, these changes became entrenched, for better or worse, as part of OpenRA’s identity. Many of these changes are considered almost universally positively (e.g. the fog of war, unit veterancy, Flak Trucks), but others have been much more controversial (e.g. Hinds on the Allies, Kill Bounties, re-usable engineers).

This dichotomy between “Original Red Alert” and “Original OpenRA” has caused significant conflict among our players and contributors on the forum and the community Discord channels. These discussions were reignited last year by the change to building auto-targeting, and have increased in passion with recent discussions about finding a way to move Hinds back to Soviets and removing Kill Bounties as a default feature. On one side of the issue are thoughts that the RA mod should abandon some of the changes that don’t make sense in the world of Red Alert 1 (e.g. Kill Bounties, but not the Flak Truck) and instead double down on the things that made the Command and Conquer series memorable. On the other side are thoughts that it is exactly these changes that made OpenRA great, and that it is an insult to our community to discard these features motivated by misplaced nostalgia.

Allied Hind

The Allied Hind. Hero, or heresy? Let us know what you think about OpenRA’s gameplay changes below!

We would greatly value input from the wider OpenRA community on the topic, so leave your thoughts in the comments below or on our new forum. The results of this discussion will steer the future direction of OpenRA’s Red Alert mod. Please aim to be polite and constructive; comments that insult or abuse others will be moderated.

ApornasPlanet - - 4,129 comments

Thank you for this update! It's sad to hear that you're still low on manpower but great to hear that you're still working on it!

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Nikolyn - - 101 comments

I appreciate the update and continued support. I wish I had more time to be involved myself. I do have some opinions on the Hind debacle though.

Honestly, the Hind's graphics should just be replaced and the unit renamed. The Hind could be kept as sort of easter egg variant for the Soviets if they happen to capture a helipad.

I've heard the argument that inserting new graphics should be minimized. That makes sense for the most part. But the way I see it, that damage is already done by swapping its faction around. The unit doesn't have a generic name like the APC did which breaks a kind of suspension of disbelief here.

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OrangeNero - - 6,593 comments

Yes thx for the update! :D

No surprise that recreating Tiberian Sun is hell it was hell to develope too and many features are half arsed and many more were dropped during development.

Not sure if an accurate recreation is a good idea.

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naryanrobinson - - 649 comments

I do find it a little frustrating that I can't just open up a game against the computer and play the game the way it originally was. Silly and goofy.
Sometimes I want to just build power plants across the map so I can build a refinery next to the ore, then sell all the plants again.
To me this was a huge part of Red Alert's character, and to not even have the option of playing it that way in offline single-player is a little sad to say the least.

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Templarfreak - - 6,723 comments

I am still adamently for "Classic" distributions. I get that it complicates things user-side, having too many options that might be confusing, and I get that having to maintain multiple things like this dev-side would be a pain, but it's just the only way to make both sides happy.

I don't think it's super necessary that a "classic" gamemode needs to be maintained by ORA team, it could just be a "fan" thing that the ORA team endorses or points players that want the originals toward, which can help with both of those issues and cuts all liability of the ORA Team because it's not an "official" thing.

I had put some efforts towards making a classic experience once or twice in the past for both RA and TD, and I think for Red Alert and Tiberan Dawn it's possible with what's already there but it would be a timely process to make all the necessary changes. I think the only thing that's still missing is Gap Generators and like, a handful of other things I guess? Gap Generators is the only thing I remember not being there last time I tried this, but maybe it's there now?

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pchote Author
pchote - - 35 comments

There *is* an option for that! Uncheck the "Limit Build Area" checkbox in the options tab before you start the game.

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naryanrobinson - - 649 comments

Hey, it's not everything,
but a really handy tip nonetheless! Thanks!

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Nuttah - - 1,201 comments

Specifically regarding the Hind: The chopper should go (preferably back on the Red team again, but that's just me), and The Allied Helicopter Gunship should stay.
Of course, this would mean adding art, which is both extra work, and iffy, but on the other hand, if you don't, you're left with the choice of either reverting almost everything, or having holes in certain roles.
*Also, a Soviet Gunship fighting like a Soviet Gunship for people that aren't Soviets feels kinda...jarring.

As for the bounties not making sense: It's Total War and the guy you just shot relinquished use of his kit. Slightly used MP717(r)/Mpi-K 47(r), anyone!?
It's also a handy way to bounce back if your ore deposits are dry, or your harvesters dead.

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Guest - - 698,697 comments

I say move the Hind back to Soviets and give the Allies a replacement for the Hind, simply. Heck, we can even have an original unit design, like an RC air bomb or a cryo-copter or even just something that's exactly like the Hind.

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23-down - - 3,597 comments

Personally I think the Hind should get back to the Soviet side as well. Rather add a 2nd chopper (same model, or new model) to allies so that they can still keep minigun and missile choppers. But it's only a cosmetic option in the end.

2nd thing I'd like to see get implemented would possibly be the addition of the few remaining missing units Red Alert + AddOns had. Volkov for instance as counterpart to Tanya on Allies side. No original asset should be left behind.

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OrangeNero - - 6,593 comments

Allied Hind is heresy.

Allies should use Apache (Longbow is one) and Cobra or Tiger.

Hind is a staple of soviet/warsaw armed forces.

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APB_ICE - - 1,245 comments

IMO the Hind needs to be given back to the Soviets, and has no place with the Allies. It makes absolutely no sense for a Soviet vehicle to be inaccessible to the Soviet faction while also being accessible to the non-Soviet faction.

Not only does it not make sense lore-wise, but it also goes against the core gameplay of the factions; Allies are meant to be faster and sneakier but having weaker armour, more precision damage weapons, and generally better at surgical strikes and hit-and-run tactics. The Longbow is meant as a counter to superior Soviet armour, and excels at surgical strikes which can decimate an enemy armour column.

The Soviets, on the other hand, are meant to be slower and less nimble, but with more firepower and armour, more splash damage, and generally better at laying waste to a general area at the expense of poorer accuracy and more collateral damage. The Hind is meant as a counter to superior Allied infantry, and has the staying power (due to armour and ammo capacity) to effectively deny an area to enemy infantry.

If the Allies need another air vehicle to serve some kind of purpose, there are plenty of appropriate European/Western examples which would suit the Allies much better than arbitrarily giving them a Soviet helicopter. Why not give the Allies something like the Me 262 HG III or an early-model Mirage III (possibly with autocannons as a sort of halfway point between the Soviet machine gun-armed Yak and missile-armed MiG), or an early-model Cobra helicopter or similar Cold War era helicopter (preferably as old as possible since RA1 takes place in the 1950's), or even a fictional development of the WWII-era Fw 61, Fl 282 or Fa 223? There are a lot of options.

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Nuttah - - 1,201 comments

Nitpickery: While Red Alert happens in sometime in the 1950s (Stalin is still alive), the entire universe is decades ahead of ours, technologically. I'd say about two, myself, but...stuff.
Either that, or Westwood played fast and loose with chronology and rule of cool. I do wonder which...

So to keep from unprompted walls of text:
With the exception the Yak, the Light tanks, certain candidates for the medium tank*, flamethrowers, cruisers, and the infantry rifles**, a lot of the equipment used was already from the 1960s.
*Centurions and Pattons have their origins in WW2, but 105mm variants of both are pretty much post-1959.
**Game says "M1 Carbine," Manual says "AK-47 and M16." M16 was designed in the late 50s, but didn't serve.

And hell, I'm certain you could find Engineers that worked on the Apache Longbow, and weren't even born in 1960! Bloody thing was first delivered in 1997. And the first model was only introduced in 1986, in the first place. Stuff.

Poooooint being: If you're going to add units based on real equipment to the game, it's probably safer to look in the middle of the Cold War, rather than as far back as possible, because their world just ain't right.

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