Dev Notes, March 10 2017
by, 03-10-2017 at 07:19 PM (760 Views)
Building Gazluk Keep -- the new group dungeon in Gazluk -- took a lot more time to finish than we originally anticipated. A big chunk of the extra time was spent on basic optimization. This is a big dungeon with a lot of enemies, but still the dungeon had much worse framerate than we expected. We don't do a lot of client-side optimization during alpha, so I was pretty rusty at it, and there were new Unity tools to learn how to use, too. All in all, we learned a lot about how to optimize large-scale dungeons -- which should speed up work on the next big dungeon.
But despite that work, there are still framerate problems in Gazluk Keep. That's due to the large number of humanoid monsters in there -- namely, all the orcs! Currently, orcs use the same armor system as players do, so they're very expensive to render -- much more expensive than simple monsters like the giant worgs or spiders. Optimizing the humanoid-rendering system (including monsters like orcs, but also players) is definitely on our to-do list, but some other things have to happen first, so it'll be a few months before we get the framerate higher in there.
Group Size and Loot
We're still gathering feedback on the new dungeon, but one change is clearly needed soon: we need to lock down group sizes and looting rights. Right now, we're incentivizing everyone to group up into clumps of as many players as possible. That doesn't just sap the challenge from the dungeon, it's also just a lot more boring.
I mentioned recently that we were waiting on this change until the new GUI was done, but I've changed my mind -- I'm implementing it now and it will be in the next snapshot build. (The GUI display will be rudimentary, but good enough for now.)
Here's how it will work:
- Hunting groups will be capped at six players instead of 10.
- When fighting elite and boss monsters, only the first group that attacks it will be able to loot it.
- The monster will become "locked" to the first attacker's group, with a little lock icon visible to other players and groups to let them know.
- Each member of the locked group will get their own share of treasure, just as they do now, but no one outside that group will be able to loot the corpse.
- This applies to elites and bosses only! Looting rights for other monsters will continue as they are now.
- This only affects loot. Things like XP, combat wisdom, and curse removal remain as they are now.
That's it. It's actually a pretty small change, all told. It doesn't change other game mechanics, because right now I'm mostly concerned about the proliferation of loot.
This change is really important for group dungeons like Labyrinth and Gazluk Keep, but I'm also eager to see how this affects druid events. Right now, it seems that druids group up into mega-groups, sometimes with over a dozen people killing the same hapless monster, even when it would be much faster to split up. If druids start grouping in more sensibly-sized groups, several of the events will become much faster -- possibly too fast, it's hard to tell. That's information I need before adding the next batch of druid events.
We'll take it slowly and see the ramifications of this change, then make other changes as necessary. We’ll be watching our metrics, of course, but -- as always! -- we will need your feedback.
Coming Soon: Bard
The Bard skill is on deck and tentatively scheduled for the next snapshot!
The bard is a group support skill. Bards can provide great support in duos and small groups, but they really shine in groups of five or six, where their group-wide buffs have the most impact. Bard pairs well with Mentalism in that way, and in fact the two skills were designed to work well together. But there are lots of other possible skill pairings.
In order to use Bard abilities, you must have either a lute or a battle-horn equipped. (Or both!) Bard abilities include some very powerful short-term buffs, a couple of healing abilities, and a mesmerize ability. But bards also get some special types of abilities as well: Songs and Blasts.
You need a lute to use the bard's Song abilities. The lute is equipped in the main hand -- a change from the current snapshot, where lutes are off-hand items. There are three songs, each with different effects, but you can only play one at a time. Once you start playing a song, it will keep playing automatically until you move or play another song (or manually toggle the song off). While you play a song, you can't move -- since that ends the song -- but you can use other bard abilities, or perform attacks with your off-hand weapon. For instance, Bard+Archery seems like it'll be an interesting combination.
Blast abilities, on the other hand, use a battle horn. The battle horn (which sounds like a real-world shofar or similar animal-horn instrument) is equipped in the off-hand slot. There are three Blast abilities, all of which are attacks. Wielding a battle horn plus a melee weapon lets you create a "front-line" bard, such as Bard+Sword.
What happens to the existing music system? Nothing. The existing lute and horn instruments, such as the "Basic Lute", will technically work for bards' abilities, but bards will eventually want more specialized instruments with bard-specific buffs.
There are lots of other little details that are still being worked out. For instance, unlocking the bard skill is a bit tricky ... but I'll talk about that in the next dev note, since I'm still working out the exact details.
The bard's music has required some extra technical care. If you ever played classic EverQuest, you may remember their bards as being silent -- they strum their lutes but no sound comes out. Since EverQuest had combat music playing in the background all the time, a bard's music would just be cacophonous.
But in Project: Gorgon, we only use combat music sparingly, mainly for bosses. So I asked Conor Brace, our amazing music guy, to make it possible for bardic songs to play alongside the combat music. He cooked up variants of each bard song to accompany the different combat-music tracks.
Here the bard is playing the Song of Resurgence, and then combat with a boss begins. Take a listen.
There's been an increase in client crashes recently. The odd thing is that the crashes don't seem to have started at the same time as a game update. Due to delays, the second-to-latest snapshot was live for a month, and the crashes seemed to start about two weeks after it was live. Normally when this happens it's due to a bad video driver, but in this case I don't think so. It may be some other OS change, like a DirectX change or something else.
I haven't been able to reproduce the crash here, but players have sent in crash logs that show the game is running out of video memory. That suggests there's a video-memory leak. The newest client snapshot does use a bit more video memory than the previous one, so the crashes may be slightly more frequent, but there's something else wrong in there.
We don't actually manage video memory directly -- it's entirely done by the Unity game engine. So the fix for this will have to come from a Unity engine update. In fact, it's been a while since we upgraded our Unity version, so the fix may have already happened. In the next snapshot, we're upgrading from Unity 5.4.4 to Unity 5.5.2. That's many months' worth of fixes and improvements, and hopefully it will address the underlying problem. If not, we'll contact Unity and get them looking at it.
These sorts of crashes have come and gone several times during the game's development. It's just an aspect of developing for Windows: all the drivers and devices keep changing, and it takes a while to sort the problems out. But they do get sorted out!
In the short term, if you're crashing a lot and you have a low-end video card (or a laptop without a dedicated video card), there is something you can do to improve things. From within the game, open the Options window, click Graphics, then Advanced Overrides. Override the "Texture Memory Restriction" to 2 or 3. Then restart the client. This override will make the game textures blurrier (the higher the number, the blurrier they'll get), but they will take up a lot less video memory!
(Speaking of blurry textures, if you ever wanted to see what the game might look like on an N64 console, set that texture memory restriction to 6.)
We are aiming to have the next snapshot out in about a week, maybe a week and a half, depending on how things go. In addition to the group changes and the bard skill, we’re working on a visual upgrade to Serbule. I think you'll like the new Serbule ... but I'll talk about that next week when I have some screenshots to show off!
(Discuss this blog post here.)