We're approaching our anticipated release of our latest public build of L.U.R.K., 1.1. I'd like to
thank you all for waiting until now, and you'll be happy to learn that your patience will soon be rewarded within this month of June. We apologize for the confusion regarding release dates previously, but I can assure you with complete sincerity that there is no feasible reason why L.U.R.K. 1.1 will not make it's way to the public this month. In fact, I would even be comfortable with releasing as is currently, having played through up to the Sarcophogas without any outstanding errors personally.
However many of you have been envoloped by hype and hearsay and are unaware of most of what L.U.R.K. is actually about. The main page is somewhat disjointed when it comes to actually addressing this. I feel like simply listing features like 'better graphics', 'more weapons', 'stealth system' and whatnot is farily counterproductive to what we're trying to accomplish.
What we're all about
There are many mods for games like S.T.A.L.K.E.R., Oblivion, Grand Theft Auto and such that modify the existing game, but few endeavor to actually bring it into an actual direction that is guided with an overall perspective. You'll see many mods talking about adding weapons, improving graphics, changing sounds, adding minor entertaining features, but admittedly shallow in nature. This may sound pretentious coming from someone who makes mods himself, but it's a truth that would be hard to deny.
Individual minimods and feature additions are fun in moderation, but what happens when they amalgamate into a large culmination of modifications? What happens then? More often then not it ends in disaster. There is a likelihood that a global perspective is taken on the individual changes, but once things start to build and build, it becomes hard to see how the direction of the game goes somewhere you hadn't expected. If it happens without your knowledge then it more often then not isn't a positive one.
However egotistical it may seem coming from me, I only feel comfortable in saying it because I am as guilty of it then anyone. I was fully aware of the changes being made in the previous public builds, and effort was made to balance them into a natural ecosystem of changes corresponding with existing elements that would feel like positive additions, without taking away from the original direction.
That was my effort, and the more educated I've become in modding, and with the existing S.T.A.L.K.E.R. the way it is, I have become more educated in learning just how wrong this idea was. However only part of it. Obviously balance and direction is extremely important in endeavoring to make an overhaul of any kind, however the idea of taking it in the direction of the original was a mistake that I should have perceived.
The fact of the matter is, even the smallest of changes that can be perceived as an almost objective improvement from one perspective, seems like an issue or a poor shift in direction, or simply something they just do not like to others. Anyone with a grade-school education can tell you that people have varying perspective and opinions, but it was a gray area that I soon learned is much more gray then I had ever imagined.
One of the biggest obstacles I'd become aware of is simple familiarity. When a change is made to something that you identify with S.T.A.L.K.E.R., a game that most people think positively on if they are even educated about mods and the modding community, people will be taken out of a comfort zone that they had developed for the game, and more inclined to identify any issues that they should see with it. It's a little phenomena very in tone with one called 'Uncanny Valley', in which the closer an object becomes to reality, the more obnoxious simple errors become, simply because you start associating what you see with reality, and seeing an uneven stare at you in what you perceive in a video game is much less alarming then seeing the same thing in real life.
One of the most painstaking issues I've become much too familiar with is art design and graphics. It has driven me to the brink of insanity, having reports either favoring a certain graphical aspect immensely, or strongly opposing it. A most recent example is the introduction to High Dynamic Range, or more commonly referred to as HDR and even more negatively looked upon as 'bloom and blur'.
Now the first thought that comes to mind is this. Sure it's something that's very polarizing and contested, why not make it optional? Isn't it that simple? Well actually, it's not, for me or for you. When making a change as simple as that, it changes the way the environment looks obviously, and believe it or not, one of the major concerns I touched on previously was balance, and creating an ecosystem of changes that go hand in hand. In order to do that, I make many changes to accent these changes properly. Simply throwing HDR onto the pile doesn't work, objects will appear to bright and have a glow that doesn't naturally suit your eye's ability to adapt. I have to be meticulous to an autistic degree to suit things to a fashion I would deem suitable, and making decisions that would sacrifice those ideals are simply out of the question for me, because it would lead to complaints ranging from different builds that would have to be addressed respectively for to respect preferences that I may or may not share. It is just too complicated, and the idea of building many separate options for installation has simply been thrown out for me.
I regret to say that this realization, or rather prior to it has led to much wasted time, trying to appeal to everyone and only slowly watering down other aspects without realizing it, and following a loop of fixing one thing and breaking another, like a submarine that's pipes burst from pressure in a different location after each other area is patched.
So before you play L.U.R.K., before you come to my comments page and make a suggestion, or complain about a perceived issue, I want you to think about the direction that this project is taking, and how your perception may or may not correlate with what I agree with. As selfish as it may seem, I need to come at this from my perception of what S.T.A.L.K.E.R. should be, otherwise the game will become convoluted with concepts and systems that are shaped from many different perspectives that will ultimately clash and cause an amalgamation of shit that nobody would want to play.
So what exactly are the things that I strive to achieve? At this point it would be hard to articulate all the nuances of my perspective of what the zone should project on me. Using words to describe it is difficult because there are many different nuances to it that may or may not be consistent with the last, but to my defense are usually guided by logic that I at least feel secure.
You may be thinking that this article thus far has fully convinced you that playing L.U.R.K. means subscribing to my personal perception of the Zone, and as discomforting it may seem, you would be exactly right. However there's a certain security in that unwavering perception coming from one individual that you may not understand.
So why shouldn't I just play something else then, why not play something that almost fully subscribes to the original goal of S.T.A.L.K.E.R.? Well then I regret to inform you that you should forget about playing any mods in that case. Some would like you to think otherwise, but you're not getting the 'vanilla' experience from anything other then vanilla. Any change as subtle as it may seem is shifting it into realms deemed suitable by another individual, and not some omnipotent source of objective opinion.
It's quite simple really. How would you feel if you walked into the entrance of the Bar through the first building without hearing a resounding 'Get out of here S.T.A.L.K.E.R.'? Well to most people who have played the game consistently, it would feel strange and somewhat sad. Logically, it would seem weird and annoying to walk into a building and have a complete stranger tell you to 'get out', especially if the Duty outpost speakers were resounding it's desire to have fellow S.T.A.L.K.E.R.'s join the faction this man is with, and help them with missions.
However despite this, most people regard this as a charming aspect of the game, if only because of it's humor, at just how bad the English localization is at times. One of the nuances you'll see from me is retaining this aspect of the game, even if many would rather see it gone.
So what is the vanilla experience at it's core? Well that's up to you to decide. If you see any rhyme or reason to it that can be defined in a few paragraphs then I'd like to hear it, and you can view that as a sincere proposition, because I surely do not know.
I can tell you that GSC made this game, and that GSC worked on S.T.A.L.K.E.R. for over 5 years. Initially, it endeavored to be a linear shooter inspired by the Half-Life series from Valve. I'm sure most of you are aware that having followed this tangent would have killed much of what makes S.T.A.L.K.E.R. what it is today. However that isn't the first change in direction it took, hell it wasn't even in Chernobyl at the time, and if it was supposed to be, then I can assume that GSC learned much more about Geography within those 5 years. If you don't know what I'm talking about that you can view what would appear to be Aztec Pyramids depicted in their earliest videos.
I've said it before and I'll say it again, GSC's production can be likened to what I've experienced in these past couple years. Ideas that seem great on paper turn sour in execution, and much time is wasted in our own ignorance.
But what is S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl 1.0005 without anything extracted in it's gamedata directory? Is it what S.T.A.L.K.E.R. was intended to be? That would be a hard argument for anyone. GSC has proven with time that they themselves are learning how to design the game to suit their own perceptions of what it should be, and that is obviously harshened severely when you pay with your pocket for ill-conceived risky ideas, and end up having your development time by your publisher, in this case THQ, for wasting too much time and not having a product that they wish to see profit, rather then see you fulfill your dreams. It's a well known fact that Shadow of Chernobyl was released unfinished, and patches have done little to alleviate that, especially when they aren't monetized.
Time has only exaggerated these facts. With more time to work on the same engine they spent 5 years developing, the faction that was once known as a group of individuals seeking to expand the zone's scientific teachings to benefit society and technology, turned into a pile of weed smoking hippies who don't know their asses from their faces. Clear Sky was poorly received critically, and not without good reason. It is commonly perceived as a step back in the series, and some even believe it being perceived as a canon prequel to Shadow of Chernobyl has dealt irreparable damage to the series as a game built on story an atmosphere. The former being brittle before regardless.
Now it may seem that most of what I say is negative, and you might come out thinking I don't like the core aspects of S.T.A.L.K.E.R., and if you did then I can say that you are most definitely wrong. The beauty of the point being made initially in this article, is that S.T.A.L.K.E.R., albeit it's issues, numerous in number that may never be fixed on X-Ray 1.0 or any of it's future iterations, is a unique, charming, atmospheric, and often breathtaking game that's strength's manage to overcome it's weaknesses if you just practice a little patience and effort.
Enough about vanilla S.T.A.L.K.E.R. though, part of it's charm seems to be rooted in it's mystery, and I can say that I played it leaving mystified in ways that weren't always good. At the end of the day, it became my focus to abandon any baggage from other perspectives and false sense of responsibility to build S.T.A.L.K.E.R. into what I think it should be, and as I said before, I will try and articulate it to the best of my capabilities.
The most obvious of which being atmosphere and immersion. Luckily for most, my core perspective on what makes S.T.A.L.K.E.R. a great title is a common one that most would find hard to argue. Doubtless it may be that immersion is often sacrificed in favor of structure, balance, and simple enforced limitations, atmosphere to me is the most important aspect of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. that makes it a little more then just a first person shooter.
While my perception of what should the desired destination with any path taken, the right path is what frequently discerns me from you, or you from him, or him from GSC. If it feels like I'm hammering this point, then if you paid a visit to my suggestion forum then it would be obvious that nothing short of a wrecking ball would impress this point well enough to the community.
When something is added, changed or even removed from the game, I want you to be assured that it's being met entirely with deliberate action guided by a global perspective based on a clear goal. Time has only improved that perception, and it will continue to evolve until I get fed up and find sanctuary away from this shit.
It's become obvious to me that any change that is made will be subject to discrimination and criticism, and given the history of overhaul mods I can't be encouraged to blame you. That's why I feel it's important today to try and cover most every aspect of what we do and why we do it. If there's a single aspect of the game that we haven't added, changed, removed, or redone ourselves then it would probably be easier to list those instead of what I'm about to list now. God only knows what all has changed since the two years I had endeavored to build the game up by myself with no intention of publicizing my work, along with all the gracious help I've received from my generous team who believe in my vision and support me in their free time. However I will try my best.
Disclaimer: L.U.R.K. 1.1 has minimal to no resemblance to the latest public release, 1.0552. I can assure you that if you didn't see the word L.U.R.K. appear on the main menu then you'd have to be psychic to perceive the similarities.
I will also try my best to describe any changes to existing elements, and the subsequent logic and reasoning behind them if it isn't already obvious.
Entire weapons arsenal overhauled to reflect actual weapon parameters.Certain allowances were made to support balance and circumstances that often pit you against multiple hostiles, which include damages that will require several assault rifle rounds to a heavily armored target that would normally incapacitate them from impact. This change heavily contrasts the weak bullets, wide bullet cones, and limited recoil of the vanilla weapons. Most people perceived that standard vanilla ballistics model as unsatisfying, unimmersive, and frustrating. This time around you'll see accurate weapons with heavy recoil, and intense damage feedback.
Completely overhauled animations system for all weapons and 3D HUD items.This includes all 80 unique weapon models that will be present in the public release of L.U.R.K. 1.1. This system also enables hand meshes from Clear Sky to replace the blocky hands from Shadow of Chernobyl default. Animations are hard to describe, so reserve your amazement for the actual build.
Many weapons added to the existing Vanilla Arsenal.This includes many logical additions, like the AK47, SKS, and other common weapons that should be considered commonplace from a realism perspective. Some weapons you might see would seem unlikely to appear in current Chernobyl, but we took creative license to pepper in weapons that could feasibly appear, let alone in the future that Shadow of Chernobyl takes place in. More ammunition calibers added as well as more interesting variants that serve functions in different circumstances, such as higher effectiveness against mutants, with a damage tradeoff for armored targets as an example.
All NPC (Non Player Controlled) character equipment loadouts rebuilt to accent these changes. Weapons in terms of quality logically appear to improve in a linear fashion as you progress through the game. In a logical fashion. Weapons do possess tradeoff's more frequently then blatant linear improvements you'll see in vanilla, however the player is encouraged to switch weapons consistently, as the commonplace caliber will shift depending on your location, and logically your weapon of choice should reflect them respectively, as your weapon of choice may not become practical over time. Choice and preference will play a role in choosing a weapon of said caliber, as most weapons will represent benefits and weaknesses when compared to other weapons.
35 kilogram weight limit is now enforced and will not be supported through optional packs. Weight limits encourage shifting different weapons, as hording ammunition becomes less practical when your equipment loadout is limited. Not only does this choice more coincidentally coincide with a realistic weight limit that would enable you a mobile person, but it also encourages planning before venturing on missions, and encourages variety and scavenging.
Every aspect pertaining to user interface overhauled. This includes pure aesthetic changes, such as complete remake of all user interface resources such as talk panel, trade panel, inventory, displayed text fonts, main menu, PDA, and much more, but convenience information such as color coded weapon icons corresponding to their respective caliber, color coded statistical information detailing the specifics of each weapon, abandoning the vague algorithm based bar graphs that used to represent a weapon's value, and much more that I don't have the time to detail.
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All aspects pertaining to AI redone. This may require a little insight of what AI was like prior to our intervention, but all you need to know is that NPC's could hear you from 50 feet away based on footsteps, and simply equipping your weapon. NPC's could see you in all sorts of lighting circumstances, whether it be pitch black or the peak of the sunrise (hardly relevant because it never really got dark), and AI couldn't hit you if you were even slowly strafing thanks to small player hitboxes, and large dispersion cones as well as hit probability factors.
AI now has a dynamic perception of light, sound is realistically tweaked so that running footsteps from 10 feet away will alert them to hostile presence (give or take depending on circumstances), NPC's can sink rounds into you even in a full sprint (moderated based on difficulty), NPC's will engage you in combat from farther away rather then stupidly sidestrafing until you're into their range (Given if you're detected), NPC's will vary their weapon behaviors based on proximity, NPC's will fire their weapons in your their last perceived location of you based on time detected even if you aren't visible at the time, and so much more I can't be bothered to explain. Note that from a relative opinion, sneaking is much much more refined and logical now, but more difficult.
Dynamic HUD (Heads Up Display) system. This means all aspects pertaining to the on screen main game interface are visible on demand, supporting a clean interface, a realistic engaging system that will notify you with a more natural, less artificial feeling the old cluttered HUD with useless indicators such as current stance. Blood will accumulate and become more visible as you take damage. A dark haze appears as you lose stamina, Etc.. Removing the old bar system for health does seem staggering, but it's a change that's easy to get used to.
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Restructured Medical System. This system is similar to those who have played Call of Pripyat. When a medkit or other consumables are applied, a sound is queued, and the effects of the consumable are gradual rather then instantaneous. However this system is different, because your weapon is automatically dequipped and re-equipped from it's usage, and the gradual effect takes more time, developing the medical system into a real gameplay component, where circumstances have to be considered before being used, rather then a system that automatically enables you more health.
Completely Redone Graphical System. This entails an innumerable amount of changes and additions that would almost warrant it's own section, however will be briefly covered for convenience sake. These changes include High Dynamic Range, Screen Space Ambient Occlusion, Post Processing Effects, Shadow Jitter, Depth of Field, rebuilt grass vegetation renderer, texture replacements, skybox replacements, etc.. However the real beauty does not rely on the system alone, rather how it enabled us to artistically design the game into a more appealing and atmospheric design. These changes include an innovative system of swapping renderer configurations on a level by level basis to suit the level to a better degree. An example would be shifting your level of eye focus to light to make artificial light sources have a distinguishable glow in underground areas.
Overhauled use of Resources, including weather overhaul. All lighting and global aspects pertaining to visual appearance have been completely redone. Most changes have strongly appealed to the concept of realism, but many allowances were made to provide similarities to the original Shadow of Chernobyl without sacrificing quality, and to direct it more into the surreal dramatic colors depicted verbally in the book that was partially responsible for inspiring the game, 'Roadside Picnic'. To those of you who are curious, the technical aspects of L.U.R.K. 1.1 surpass that of any iteration of Shadow of Chernobyl by a long shot, and arguably compete and win in some aspects against the later editions officially built by GSC, running games like Clear Sky and Call of Pripyat.
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A more in depth analysis would yield much more text then necessary for an article lengthy article, but I can elaborate further in the future if curiosity demands it.
Nightvision is a more integral part of gameplay. There is now a hard cap on visible range of nightvision of 50 feet in front of you in order to counterbalance engaging enemies from beyond reasonable proximity of enemies who can't perceive you as well at night. The balance as well as the realism aspect of L.U.R.K. 1.1 in tandem with key advantages such as stealth and nightvision will be key in your success in combat. As engaging multiple targets in open firefights is not a recommended strategy anymore, unless you want to become more acquainted with your F5 key. This is very fucking important because if you try to play L.U.R.K. 1.1 the same way you played vanilla Shadow of Chernobyl then you will get your ass handed to you on a silver fucking platter. During the day it is recommended to be behind cover at range whenever possible, while at night making use of nightvision and stealth is imperative. You will no longer start with a leather jacket, and will instead inherit a mercenary suit with basic nightvision from the get go to moderate the balance changes. You will also receive an unscoped SKS rifle at the beginning of the game to moderate the difficulty of the first mission in broad daylight with a patiently idle group of loners who might possibly receive an anal excavation from boars if you don't hurry your ass over there in good time. Many aesthetic changes pertaining to Nightvision as well to make it more appealing, as it will be in use alot. Noise loop removed because it was fucking annoying.
All quest rewards, trader economy, unique item locations, stash contents and every aspect of loot completely redone. All changes will place a new level of emphasis on traders, and the Bar will act as a hub that is extremely important to revisit for armor repairs and restocking supplies and medicals. The Bar will be your home away from home. You will go there to sleep so that night can settle before venturing into the red forest for stealth purposes, you will go there to fix your battered suit, you will need it because proper planning is more important then ever before. Sleeping bags are removed from the game, and you can no longer decide the parameters of your battles at your own convenience. Returning to the bar, Sid's bunker, Freedom Base, or the Ecologists Bunker is required to sleep, as well as a small fee and food for your growing hunger from sleeping.
With that said, we don't wish for people to perceive journeying back to the bar as a chore.
The new Arena System will force you to finish the vanilla Arena Missions by default, but afterwards a new system will be implemented, in which Arnie, the showman for the Arena will return to the bar for drinks until a designated time in the evening in which he will notify you over the newsfeed that the new restructured arena will begin shortly, which will allow you to not only fight in battles with loadouts of your choosing against opponents which will include mutants of your choosing, based on a few randomly generated selections, but you can also spectate and bet on opponents from the bleachers, and watch chaos unfold as varying adversaries fight against each other in the arena.
Every NPC's armor (as well as your own), loot drops, accuracy parameters, mutant capability, spawn frequency, and much more is completely redone to best accent the changes to the structured system of balance regarding ballistics and health statistics. Difficulties all scaled to maintain a similar gameplay structure with lightened requirements.
Defaulted system to disable combat properties from Artifacts. New system will shift focus on artifacts to be entirely in line with a logical plot focused reason that will play a large role in the refurnished economy, that will be grounded on the logic that you exist on the zone partially to profit off of collecting artifacts from selling them to ecologists who research their scientific properties, rather then attaching them to your belt to give you arbitrary unbalanced combat advantaged. One of the few options that will remain optional because of the imminent slobbering rage that would ensue from leaving it unoptional.
Random blowouts will not be present. This is a design choice that I have avidly stood by for ages. They are wrong for too many reasons to articulate and including them optionally is counterproductive to the philosophy I have described in the first few paragraphs. That is all, no discussion. I have them as functional compatible code but refuse to provide any official support for it in L.U.R.K. 1.1. I also will ask you to redirect your attention to previous articles illustrating my issues with random blowouts if you wish for a more elaborate understanding of why I refuse to support them. That is the last bit of discussion I will offer regarding them.
Refinished vegetation with new concepts for S.T.A.L.K.E.R. like fading mipmaps on grass sprites to blend with ground textures at cutoff, entirely new sprites derived from Crysis with a less bushy standoutish appearance, with a more natural grass feel. Grass doesn't vibrate and such. Color maps overhauled to look less blotchy, and give a more consistent look to the world.
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Overhauled optimization system, included a completely recoded prefetching system that reduces in game stuttering to a significant degree. Rehandling all requested prefetched data to be loaded in advance that would lead to stuttering. Prefetching will also require a fraction of the time to load prior to loading a new level. Loading times are much shorter, and enthusiast level graphics options are available for those who need the bleeding edge, but standard options will yield similar performance to what you've seen in 1.0552 with tremendous visual improvement. We have also brought down the archive to 1.20gb uncompressed, which with the last quick compress, I managed to get to 500mb.
Sound overhaul pertaining primarily to but not limited to weapons, ambient audio, and guitar music. Every weapon has a more beefy tuned firing noise that creates a presence that was otherwise weak previously. Guitar Music mostly derived from Call of Pripyat's great tunes, and more Ambient Audio from MooZe.
Refunctioned actor interaction. This pertains to everything including slower, more realistic movement speed, actual animated stance transitions rather then instantaneous clipping from duck to stand, inertia system for smoothing recoil camera jerking, as well as a more atmospheric system for death sequences that will retain first person perspective upon death, fade your screen to black, and play a theme following your death. Reloading after death will fade you screen back in.
There is so much more that I couldn't even begin to cover, I'm very proud to say that there isn't a single thing that I've listed that isn't finished. We're doing touch up runs, and letting testers play, but we've already had multiple testers run through without anything gamestopping, and we'll be without a doubt within June for a timely release. Thank you all for you support.