Some people love the smell of napalm in the morning. I do too but not as much as I love this time in a dev cycle where we begin to see that we are closing more bugs than we are creating, when we see that our features are almost complete and where we turn to our community to show them what we’ve got and ask them for their feedback on how to make it even better. It’s that time for 1.29 and next week we’ll be opening the doors to the test server and inviting you all to drop in for a look. This time however our focus has been a little different than it has in the past.
"It’s that time for 1.29 and next week we’ll be opening the doors
to the test server and inviting you all to drop in for a look."
Sure, we’ve got some new vehicles and new buildings and even some game play changes but our major focus has been on the future and on the past. We’ve got an opportunity in front of us. An opportunity we haven’t had in seven years- an opportunity to do something great for the future of our game.
As many of you are probably aware, next year will mark a huge milestone for Battleground Europe as the game launches into China. This is a project that we have been working on for several years and has finally come to fruition with development starting this year. China is a great market for Battleground Europe, offering an enormous player base that has a love of competitive and massively multiplayer games. Our game fits the bill for both of those very nicely.
We’ve partnered with a group founded by a long time player and friend of the company who has brought together several veterans of the China gaming development community to run a premiere service in China.
"As we worked together to prepare for a launch in China
we realized that this is a great opportunity to improve
and add to the gaming experience."
As we worked together to prepare for a launch in China we realized that this is a great opportunity to improve and add to the gaming experience. MMO’s have evolved quite a bit since we started and to be successful in China we need to not only provide the basics like translations but also enhance the new player experience and flatten out the learning curve. We also wanted to take care that every system and feature we develop for the China market has relevance to our players as well.
Training- One of the things that we’ve always been proud of is our core of dedicated trainers and as we looked to having our first major release of the game into a completely fresh market of players we knew that we needed to build on and extend that training experience for our new players. The first phase of that will be in 1.29 as “Basic Training”. This feature takes new players into the game through a series of guided tutorials that focus on everything from teaching basic infantry movement and firing to using the map and chat tools for communication and planning. New players will have to complete these basic training courses to unlock access to their personas. We’ve even built a new training ground with new ranges and a new tutorial scripting language to allow us to build and expand our training.
"Combat training will be next stage of training where players will get
to compete in small directed battles so that they are prepared
for WWIIOL-style combat before they even step foot into the game world."
For v1.30 we’ll continue to build on this training system with Combat Training. Combat training will be next stage of training where players will get to compete in small directed battles so that they are prepared for WWIIOL-style combat before they even step foot into the game world.
Training doesn’t stop there though. We plan to expand training into advanced sections as well. First will be “Advanced Combat Training”. Advanced training will allow players to go to the Training tab in the user interface (UI) and select instances to fight in. The fast action battles will allow players to train outside of the main campaign. In addition to combat we plan to continue to add training for most of the weapons systems in the game over time including everything from mortar practice ranges to pre flight instruction.
The tutorials will also cover every screen of the UI with a new “Quick Help” system. As new players go through the UI for the first time, help screens will point out all of the features of each page. New players should have a much improved experience finding a battle or joining a squad or chatting with others.
Instancing- The instancing and scripting tools that we’ve built for training also give us some very unique opportunities for future development. One of the things that Project China will have is a competitive team fighting system. We plan to morph this technology for our players into things like training instances where trainers can give direct guidance to players and special event scenarios that run in instances on the main server.
Take the Special Events Team as an example. We see instancing as a gate way to building a toolset where a SET member can log in and from the UI create an event plan that recreates an historical battle. He can pick the place the fight will happen, decide on the force makeup and deployment of those forces and set the time for the scenario to run. We could literally have hundreds of these battles from which to pick and choose at any given time. This could make intermissions into a whole new play experience.
"This tool might be just what we need to do some
Eastern Front or Possibly an American landing on foreign soil."
These same tools also work for doing things like squad tournaments. We imagine fighter tournaments with last man standing, maybe even ladder rankings. In the long term we want to see if this can be the tool to create pocket battles. This tool might be just what we need to do some Eastern Front or Possibly an American landing on foreign soil.
This is an amazing core technology to have at our disposal and this is all made possible directly as a result of Project China. This is by far the biggest new tool that we have ever had in our toolbox and the possibilities are literally mind boggling.
Translations- Translating the game is nothing new to us; we’ve had the game supporting English, French, German, Italian and Spanish for some time. Or so we thought! Chinese is a completely new experience and translating the entire game has been a huge undertaking. Not only did we need to translate the UI and the manuals but we also found we needed to translate over 6000 town and facility and vehicle names, something we’ve never had to do before. We also realized that our western translators were really lacking the tools to keep their translations up to date. So we went out and built a new web based translation tool that contains the tens of thousands of translations the game needs. Anyone who plays in a language other than English should find their play experience vastly improved.
Anti-Addiction- Apparently gamers all over the world are the same. They all like to play for hours on end, always wanting “just one more mission”. In China they take this quite seriously. If you are a minor and you’ve played more than a few hours the system starts to warn you that you need to go outside and play and to help you with that it will reduce your score and start buzzing at you! This is probably the one feature in 1.29 that I couldn’t find a way to make useful for our own players. [Anti-Addicition feature will not be available to players outside China -Ed] Though Ollie "KFSONE" Smith has suggested there are a few of you out there we might just switch this on for so watch out!
The Air War- Goeff "DOC" Evans and Rick "GRANIK" Ashby have spent quite a bit of this dev cycle working on improvements for the air game. First up we have a couple new toys for you guys. The Spitfire Mk 1b will be taking a slot in Tier 1 while the Bf 109 E1 will make an appearance in Tier 0. These new planes should even out these early tiers. The other big news is the tail audit. For years we’ve been unhappy with the part of the flight model that produces such dramatic yaw flop when using the rudder. Time and again we’ve fiddled with the flight model or the drag points or the surface areas in an attempt to tame the beast. This work always seemed in vain until now. We realized finally that it wasn’t the flight model at all. It was the input that was causing such dramatic flight characteristics and lo and behold hidden in the thousands of lines of data that make up an airplane’s flight, control and weapons was a fix. And fix it did. The change is dramatic and probably the best change we’ve ever made to our air game. I think BmBm sums it up best when he says, “The yaw fix has made aerobatics and advanced combat maneuvers possible where they were formerly tricky at best and downright lethal at worst.” You can read more of his analysis here.
"The change is dramatic and probably the best change we’ve ever made to our air game. "
There are several other more minor changes that you’ll find in the ReadMe. Among them is a fix to some belt files that fell out of our Unity upgrade. It seems that some planes have been misfiring a few rounds in their belt. It’s not dramatic but for those of you who live and die by the seconds of trigger you have you’ll probably notice a bit more bite in your attack.
Terrain - Our biggest art project of the year has been preparing for the coming Unity upgrade by redoing a lot of our content. We’ve been focused on replacing old buildings and you’ll find several improvements with new urban buildings starting to roll out, a new munitions building, new docks, new AB walls for airfields, new farm ruins, and several older buildings from the Belgian, town and city sets redone or replaced with newer objects. While these all look better in the current game they will really begin to shine when we release the Unity upgrade. Oh and the capture table has made its last appearance. I’m not sure what you’ll call the new capture objects but we have a pool going at the office and if you call them “happy monkey heads” then I’ll win. I think capture radio will probably win out though.
Keymapper- Player, “Sgtspoon” has been a real boon to many of our players by providing alternate keymappers over the years. He’s been after us forever about getting his work into the game and we decided that with our new release now’s the time to finally jump the hurdles that were preventing us from just dropping it in. We’ve modified his work and added some of our own twists but we now have a functional keymapper default for those players who might come to the game without their trusty twisty stick (ahem, no jokes). The game will even auto detect if you have a joystick or not and set itself appropriately. Also now, if you have a joystick detection issue or you plug in a new game pad you can go directly to your “Settings” tab and redetect your input controllers. We’d like a lot of feedback on this during testing so that we can be sure we’ve really nailed this one and offer any future new players the best and most intuitive keymapper we can. Some of you old vets might even switch to the keyboard and mouse to drive your Tigers and Shermans across the Meuse. It could happen!
User Interface- The user interface is going to go through some changes as we roll out for China. Most of these changes will probably take place after 1.29 but for this release we’ve added some new in game name tags with better resolution. The old ones were really getting tired looking and since we needed to support Chinese name tags this was a great upgrade for everyone. We also added the ability to zoom the map with the plus and minus keys. That’s something that always pops up in your emails and rat chats. One thing that we are also testing out is the showing the AI on the map. We’re a little divided on the usefulness verses clutter issue so we’ll be looking for some feedback in open test from you guys. As always we like our players to help steer the ship and participating in open test is about the best way to have your immediate feedback become a part of the game we all love.
Widescreen- Back in the day people would have thought you were crazy if you wanted a widescreen monitor. After all, reading is top to bottom not side to side. Besides, we were making a PvP game and to make it all fair we should lock the field of view so that all players see the same thing. Well, times change and widescreen monitors became all the rage. Still we resisted. That is until Matrox sent me the modern day equivalent of a fire breathing hydra in their new Triple Head Digital Edition. This bad boy let’s you hook up three monitors and treat them as one. Sure it is the best productivity tool since the invention of the window but more important it makes games AWESOMER! That’s right. 3840 x 1024 is the new king. We support it now in the game world though we still have some UI work to do. This is good news for all of you wide screen users as you will now benefit oh so slightly with a wider field of view. However, if you are as hardcore as me and have a Matrox and a Track IR Pro you’ll basically have eyes in the back of your head. Well, ok, I still get owned all the time but you’re probably really leet and this setup might work a whole lot better for those of you with actual skills.
Windows Vista Support- Now that XP is on it’s last leg and with our pending release we’ve decided to nail the last of the Vista issues. Primarily this means that all of you settings and screenshots will be found in your user folder. This goes for XP. With the open test pending we’d really like to hear from any of you Vista users. If you are having any issues we ask you to test them out in open test and tell us what you can so we can lay those bugs to rest.
Chat now has some cool shortcuts you can type. Say you type “/1 I'm on $lead's mission in $unit attacking $targ but we haven't left $orig yet”. Everyone on channel 1 will hear that you are on Gophur’s mission in 3rd Infantry attacking Grobbendonk but we haven’t left Jodoinge yet. Well you know what I mean.
Scoring has also gotten a change we’ll be play testing. KFSONE added a guarding bonus which we may turn on if it is received well. Basically you can get score for the dreaded bunker duty. You can’t get enough that leaving you guy online all night in a deserted town will do much for you but it is a little boost for those who pull sentry while their mates are off chasing the local girls.
You knife wielders will be pleased to know that your walk toggle sneak attacks just got more deadly as the knife has been amped up. Tankers and infantry alike will be pleased to learn that dead men no longer clutch their trigger in their final throes so no more dead men firing their weapons. There is a host of other minor and major gameplay and unit tweaks that you’ll find in the read me once we go into open test.
"The Unity upgrade is that improvement and it will be ready to go into live testing early next year."
Unity Upgrade- The coders are chomping at the bit to get this into test and as soon as we deliver the last of the China project and start working on our 2009 plan we’ll be letting this code loose. But first we need to explain a bit about what you can expect from this code and what the implications are for its release.
First some definition work is in order. Just what is the Unity upgrade? First and foremost it’s a refactoring or modernization of our entire code base. The Unity Game Engine is fundamentally eight years old. Sure we’ve changed a lot over the years but the basic interaction between code modules and the foundations have not undergone major overhaul. This has been a major undertaking over the last three years. Our game has very specific needs. In order to support infantry level combat in an environment where tanks need to be able to fire on targets at 3000m and planes need to cross vast distances at hundreds of miles an hour require some very specific requirements from an engine. When we started WWIIOL we realized that no engine out there could do what we needed so we built our own. Over the years we’ve realized that there still isn’t an engine out there that can meet our requirements (believe me, I’ve looked at them ALL) and so we need to improve what we have. The Unity upgrade is that improvement and it will be ready to go into live testing early next year.
So then, what exactly is in this upgrade? To start, the upgrade is a fundamental rework of the code to improve performance and productivity. We’re not just talking about better FPS we’re also talking about the ability of our dev team to integrate new features with out breaking things. We’re talking about taking disparate parts of code and making them one defined module. We’re talking about rebuilding code bases to get rid of errors. We’re talking about killing the corn flakes bug and we’re talking about rag doll physics. Sure we’re also talking about things looking better with new shader languages and modern rendering techniques but it honestly isn’t all about looks. This hot chick has beauty and more importantly, brains.
"We’re talking about killing the corn flakes bug and we’re talking about rag doll physics."
What’s this mean for the player? First it means better performance and better content (special effects, lighting, shading, trees). But it also means Shader 2.0 as a minimum and it also means SSE2 support as a minimum. Lots of you probably don’t know what that means exactly but or now let’s just say that it means you’ll need a modern computer. Video cards more than 4 generations old aren’t going to work. This is really only a problem if you are running on a 6 year old Radeon 9800 or an nVidia MX400 series. That’s not really asking so much now is it. As for CPUs it basically means you need a Pentium 4 or better. Once again 99% of you are covered and the other 1%, well I don’t think they can probably play too well any way. I bring these up just so you are aware that if you’ve got an older rig, this might be a great time to start thinking about an upgrade. As we get closer to the holidays I’ll probably do a build guide for a few budget levels. You’d be surprised what you can put together on Newegg.com for just a few hundred dollars.
I’m tempted to assail you with some of our plans for 1.30 and for 2009 but I think there’s enough goodness written above to hold you for a while. Yes, it's been a while since our last major game update and I know some of you may be wishing the features included some long-awaited toys, but the work we've done in 2008 is vitally important. A successful (re)launch into a new territory like China can put CRS into a stronger position and give us the resources we've needed for so long. It's been seven years since we've had an opportunity like this and with your help we will have a hugely successful launch and WWIIOL will have another seven years filled with the world’s greatest virtual war and we’ll get to do all those cool things that we’ve all always dreamed of. Maybe even parachuting dogs…
Dana "GOPHUR" Baldwin
Cornered Rat Software