A Fast Start to a New Year – Monday, January 31st, 2022


Hey everybody, I hope you all had a Happy New Year and are looking forward to a better 2022. Words can’t describe how I hope that applies to me as well as I can’t wait to put 2021 in the rear-view mirror! As we end the month of January, all I can think about is, when does Spring start and when can we all be playing, at least part time, in the new RvR area? This month’s update addresses some of the things that we will need for that area and to get to a proper gameloop for our Backers. This is a great update with some surprises for us (finding a long-standing but hidden bug in the animation system), major improvements to our rendering engine, and a long-standing but hard to notice issue (at times) with our memory/threading system (which will result in both speed improvements and fixes to some of the hitchiness we see at times). George and Andrew are pretty confident that these improvements will not only result in a major improvement to an already exceptional fast system, but also address a lot of the times that players’ PCs would hitch. As a side benefit, this should also make our Cherry Keep playtest even smoother, even when there’s a lot of building destruction going on. I can’t wait to see that! For me, I’m finding some time to work on crafting again (yay, finally!) and I’ve already modeled a jewelcrafting system that is off to a good start. I’m going to turn my attention to the modification of gems next. As always, neither of these systems are meant to be heavy on the grinding but should be nice additions to the game.

For more info on this month’s happenings, plus the end of month Q&A with resident Senior Producer and returning guest streamer Terry, check out the January livestream here: https://www.twitch.tv/videos/1282641555

January 2022 End of Month CU Update (1/31/2022)

  1. Done – Tech – Water Interaction Updates
    1. The first pass for water interactions with CU characters – which we put in some time ago – used a fixed distance for slowing the character down, and another distance setting that caused them to drown. As long-time CU veterans know, this system was set up well before giant characters were introduced, and didn’t take into account the giants’ larger size – all of which meant they could start drowning in relatively shallow water.
    2. This has been something we’ve wanted to adjust for a while. So now, we take the size of the character into consideration when deciding how deep into the water they must wade to be affected by it. There will be some slight variance in individual cases, but shallow water effects will generally trigger around 25% of the height of the character, and drowning at 75% height.
    3. Along with this, we’ve fixed some interactions with the FirBog Swamp Stomp ability. Previously, it failed to take into consideration whether the character was both in the AOE and in a body of water. This meant that the status might get cleared at the wrong time, or override the deep water status. Now, this AOE attack applies the Shallow Water status to those in the area, which is a big improvement.
  2. WIP – Design – Balance on Sprint/Walk
    1. Currently this is set to:
      1. Walk: 2
      2. Canter: 4.4 + (2% * Agility)
      3. Sprint: Canter * 1.75%
    2. Encumbrance has been turned off for a short while, as we balance the values related to item mass and the character’s stats.
    3. For a short time period, the Movement Speed stat value was not showing up during character creation. This bug has been fixed.
  3. Done – Tech – Primary Stats for Classes: Control over which primary stats are important to a class is now faster and easier for designers to modify. Previously, this data was a bit buried. It is now part of our stats data sheet.
  4. Done – Tech – Terrain Fidelity: Wylie has been working hard this month on terrain fidelity. He’s added a Terrain Quality slider that controls how much high detail geometry we render on the terrain. Bumping up that slider will show more detailed terrain at longer distances, which is something our engine can support. It really showcases the detailed work our art team is doing.
  5. Done – Tech – Level of Detail (LOD) Priority
    1. Another new feature this month – also from Wylie – is an overhaul on how we decide which sections of the terrain are given Level of Detail (LOD) priority. LODs are basically low and high detail versions of the same geometry, where the high detail version is rendered when up close and the low detail version is rendered when far away. It’s a simple mechanism for keeping graphics budgets within reason.
    2. The new system runs a test render of the terrain offline, and flags all especially detailed terrain segments for LOD priority appropriately. So, when the terrain gets rendered again on your version of the game, those segments are given LOD priority – which means they will render at higher detail from further away. We think you will enjoy the results.
  6. Done – Tech – Path Smoothing: Rob has completed an effort to significantly improve the “curviness” of paths followed by our NPCs. Prior to this effort, all NPCs moved in point-to-point fashion following the paths provided to them either by designers or the path planner, which can result in somewhat robotic motion through the world. By introducing a notion of “looking ahead” to turns in the path, NPCs can anticipate transitioning from their current leg of the path to the next, effectively treating the path nodes as Bezier Curve control points. The result curves the NPC around corners smoothly, using a method of simple linear combination that avoids the expense of real Bezier computation. With this capability tested successfully, we will be able to incorporate the smoothed pathing in a variety of behavioral contexts in future updates.
  7. WIP – Tech – Influence Maps: Lee continues the Influence Maps effort, with current focus on using influence maps to determine tactical positions for NPCs to take around their targets. NPCs will then be able to navigate to these positions in order to surround, outflank, or surprise their intended victim.
  8. WIP – Tech – Interaction Improvements: Now that he’s wrapped up path smoothing, Rob’s next task is reworking our interaction mechanics for siege engines, items, and other characters. Essentially, he is unifying the underlying approaches to all these interactions. When completed, this will allow us to more easily develop and expand features that rely heavily on smooth user experiences – which covers a wide range of activities related to player interactions with entities in the game world.
  9. WIP – Tech – Animation Fixes: Mike D. has been heavily involved with the animation tech supporting the Melee 2.0 effort. He is currently focused on fixing animation truncation, which is happening on both the start and end of the new attack animations under development. Turns out that the underlying issue has been with us for quite a while, and it prevents our animators from seeing the complete animations play out in game as they are designed. This, in turn, results in somewhat jerky transitions into and out of the attacks, as well as attacks that don’t include the full range of dramatic motion intended by the artists. Once these issues are fixed, the attack animations will play as desired, and will smoothly blend in and out from the animations that play before the attack starts and after it completes. Mike is making good progress, and you will see these improved animations working in one of our future updates.
  10. WIP – Tech – Gameplay Definition Library
    1. We’ve started work on breaking out our gameplay definitions into their own library.
    2. There will be many steps to this process, but we have a plan of attack on how to break this down and some of the general cleanup work is already done.
  11. WIP – Tech – Infrastructure as Code: This is a continuation of work that’s been happening during the past year, to give us better control over our infrastructure. Over the last month, we’ve updated the code for the launcher API servers to be under IAC control, and we’ll be deploying those changes soon. We’re currently also creating a template that encapsulates the CU zones and shards. We’ve built a template for a single-zone shard (like Hatchery), and next we’ll be working on a second template that includes the full allotment of zones. Initially, we’ll be rolling this out to a sandbox shard. Eventually we’ll migrate the existing shards, and use the template to quickly bring online an overseas shard, so that we can start gathering data about operations in other regions.
  12. WIP – Tech – Bug Fixes
    1. Fixed several bugs that were causing connections between servers to be leaked, resulting in memory leaks, decreased performance, and eventual server crashes.
    2. Fixed a bug that was preventing debug clients from talking to release servers.
  13. WIP – Art – Various New Icons
    1. New icons have been created for:
      1. Tomb Dust infusion item and a few arrows that were missing art
      2. Shallow water status
      3. Overland travel ability components and status
      4. Adding some of the remaining icons for the Melee 2.0 update
  14. WIP – Sound – Combat
    1. This month saw Ken taking another combat-related field trip, this time to a local archery range to record foley sounds for ranged weapons. Following a similar process to his earlier recording session for melee weapons, Ken has now collected real-world audio for a variety of ranged weapon sounds including projectile firing, fly-by, and impacts.
    2. Ken has also been working on polishing the melee sounds from his original recording session, as well as the new ranged audio. These mixed and mastered SFX will eventually be used as part of new Melee 2.0 attacks and animations. Backers can hear some of that progress now in the newsletter, where we’ve included some examples of sword audio as it goes from the raw file to the more cinematic, mixed effect.
  15. WIP – Sound – Temp VO: In addition to combat SFX for weapons, we’re also working on the audio for combatants themselves. Ken has been recording initial effort VO with members of the CSE team for use as temp combat SFX. Once the raw files have been polished and prepped for in-game use, characters should play combat VO in response to taking damage, attacking, and dying – and may sound unusually similar to members of the design and art teams. 🙂
  16. WIP – Art – Weapons: Also in support of the Heavy Fighter updates and upcoming combat changes, David has completed concepts for basic tier rapiers, one initial approved design per realm. Next he’ll be turning to basic saber concepts for each realm, working through the list of weapons used by Heavy Fighters that are not yet in-game.
  17. WIP – Art – Realm Artifacts: As we continue to develop the concepts for the TDD and Viking realm artifact kits, 3D is tackling the first items from the approved Arthurian set. Jon and Scout are making progress on the lampposts, signs, and realm lion statue, for eventual placement in Arthurian-controlled zones in-game.
  18. WIP – Art – Races
    1. Joe, Scott, and Jon continue to work in tandem on armor setup for the various non-human races of CU. With the vast majority of Valkyrie, Hamadryad, and St’rm 3D fits complete, we’re on our way to finishing up the rigging stage for all Valkyrie armor sets before moving onto equipment setup in the editor, and rigging for the other two races.
    2. Jon has also finished turning our Heavy Viking armor concepts from the past month into a functional 3D set, now being fit to each race as part of our ongoing armor adjustment process.
    3. This month Thor wrapped up next steps on the Cait Sith model sculpts, and is on his way to finalizing textures for both genders.
  19. WIP – Art – Environment – Improved Foliage Production: The environment team has made strides in improving not just how we make our foliage assets, but how we implement them in the editor.
    1. That progress can be seen this month in the new clustered Golden Plains grass assets Joseph has created. Grass made using Joseph’s new method provides better visual coverage at reasonable engine cost, and even better, does not create crosshatching planes when viewed from above or sideways (like most basic grass cards). Now that this test case has been proven out internally on a new asset, we’re looking forward to applying this kind of upgrade across the board.
    2. Meanwhile, Scout is making our flower production more efficient, setting up modular cards in SpeedTree that will allow us to create a wide variety of floral assets in a fraction of the usual time – and all without a big performance hit when these assets spawn in-game.
  20. WIP – Art – Environment – Large-Scale Map Prototype, Upgraded Golden Plains
    1. This month, the environment team is giving you a peek into a new development zone and testing ground for a massive slate of environment tech R&D: a new large-scale map prototype, populated by a remixed and increasingly-improved Golden Plains biome. This is the environment team’s biggest undertaking yet – it’s the very first step in implementing our work from individual biome zones on a physically larger, more complex map that more closely matches the intended scale of CU gameplay. The zone contains a large number of improvements, in various stages of development, to prove out everything from upgraded environmental art techniques to graybox iteration.
    2. One of the most important components of this is improving the old Golden Plains tileset. Included in this process are Joseph’s grass generation upgrades mentioned above, better blending between those grass cards and terrain materials, new ground cover foliage from Scout, and modified scale and spawn distance of trees for better player POV. We’ve also created a custom style pack for the zone to better tailor overall sky settings and mood, with different parameters triggered based on time of day.
    3. Another major aspect of R&D in the zone is level layout. Backers will be able to see not only new road materials where we’ve blocked out paths and potential trade routes, but grayboxes marking realm settlements, farmsteads, and bridges. In a space as large as this Golden Plains zone, these markers help us ensure we can iterate on and finalize the foundations of the map before building more custom, vastly less flexible assets like bridges.
    4. This month’s version of the zone also has small pockets of biome interaction, such as a TDD-affiliated zone populated by the Verdant Forest, and coastlines populated by the Coastal Lowlands. Additionally, Ken has done an audio pass on the map to place initial emitters, meaning all sections of the map will generally sound like their associated biome concept zone.
    5. For more detail on this zone, Backers can check out the State of the Build in this month’s newsletter, or access the zone themselves via the existing Golden Plains portal on their home island, which has been reconnected to the new map.
    6. We wanted to showcase Golden Plains this month because it shows our commitment as a studio to continue to improve the game. This look we’re providing is only a first pass, but we are using what we learned from doing this biome the first time to create something that fits more organically into CU. Not only will we continue to improve the look of this area – and you’ll see that in the coming months – but we are constructing the Golden Plains to better facilitate gameplay as well. We hope you take a run through the Plains to see that progress for yourself, and look forward to hearing what you think.
  21. WIP – Design – Crafting – Bangles, Baubles, and Beads: MJ has been working on a design to add crafting special items such as rings, necklaces, etc. to the game. As part of this, he is also working on refining/altering gems.

And onward to art!

Our first image for January is a bit of a tech celebration, as we’ve corrected a longstanding issue with water in CU: specifically, that characters were able to drown in ankle-deep water. No more ankle gills! Characters will now receive water-related debuffs based on their relative height as intended.

This month also saw progress on weapons for CU combatants, beginning with rapiers. Here you can see some of the iterations for each realm that David worked on:

We then narrowed that spread down to one select per realm to start, with final angles and some additional silhouette work below.

In related realm news, 3D has been working on the Arthurian realm artifact kits. You may remember those broken down concepts from earlier in the process, especially that regal lion statue…

…which has since turned into this lovely 3D relic, brought to modeled-life by Jon.

After knocking out the sculpt, 3D applied stone and gold materials to round the whole thing out and give it that familiar Arthurian royal touch.

Speaking of Arthurian felines, the Cait Sith sculpts are also coming along this month. With sculpting complete, Thor is working through the complex materials needed to finish out the base models for the race.

Last but not least, January’s release gives folks a first look into a new large-scale map prototype populated with an upgraded Golden Plains biome.

This is a first pass map that intends to accomplish a lot related to everything from environment pipelines, to aesthetics, to gameplay support. Importantly, it also acts as a staging area for an upgrade to the Golden Plains tileset, including more savvy foliage spawning and improved grass assets.

Backers will be able to check out the zone for themselves soon by using the existing Golden Plains portal on their realm’s home island, which will redirect to this new map. Check out this month’s newsletter for more info on what’s in this build and how it will help us iterate down the line – especially when it comes to expansive, multi-biome maps and the large-scale gameplay they need to support.

A pretty good update – especially as our studio was closed for the holidays, as always, for our team to spend time with their family and friends, as well as to get some much-needed downtime. I’m looking forward to a lot of things over the next few updates, especially the updated version of the Golden Plains. As you can see from the screenshots, we have made a lot of improvements in general that allow our artists to improve not just the look of the game, but also the Golden Plains themselves. More improvements/tweaks are coming of course, but we’re off to a good start.

As always, I thank you for your patience and support, as we continue to make the game that we want to see and play in 2022. I’ll see you for the February update if not before!