We have returned!! And boy have we been busy! A lot has happened since our last update so prepare your eyes for a small novel filled with HD clips and plenty of screenshot eye candy. Much has been improved, tweaked, reworked, outright replaced, replaced again, and then wrapped up in a nice little “needs testing” bow. Over the course of the last few months our team has grown significantly and not one of us has abandoned their post. Spirits are high and as we draw closer to our next closed alpha phase, we are itching to get this latest build in your hands. Not because we want to show it off, but because we legitimately want to play with full servers (there’s only so many times I can lose to Jtolt @Define_Tolton one vs one).
Alright, alright. I know the majority of you came here just to know 2 things.
1. When are Alpha servers coming back online?
Saturday November 25th is when we plan on bringing servers back online. However, we are still waiting on Bluefang, our server provider, to deliver certain infrastructure that we need to make this date happen.
2. Where the $%@& is my Alpha key? Er… I mean, where can I obtain one, please?
We will be distributing them through giveaways, raffles, or contests hosted in our Discord server or on our Twitter page, and keys will also be distributed in waves for those individuals signing up via this form. So as we get closer to the 25th, make sure to keep an eye out on our social media sites for information related to these avenues. Please be aware that we only have a limited amount of keys to hand out!
Now that those are covered, lets check out what the hell we’ve been up to these past couple of months and what new goodies await you! Ah, where to begin…
The single most requested feature we’ve been asked for and have been diligently working on is a Duos gamemode. And I’ll be honest with you, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as coordinating a successful ambush with a friend at your side. But hey, if you’re short on friends with an IoN key or just short on friends in general, you can always pair up with another in search of a teammate with our new auto-matching algorithm!
There are still a few kinks to work out before we get Duos servers up and running, and right now it’s in the hands of Bluefang, but you can bet your asses @Spectral and @Fritters are doing everything they can to get duos in by the 25th.
Friends who drop in together, miss their target by a wide margin together.
In many ways the last iteration of our in-game inventory was a big success. We took a few design risks that paid off and some that didn’t. Regardless, what we learned from watching our Alpha testers use it gave us the feedback we needed to come up with something more flexible, intuitive, and significantly more tailored to our PVP focused, fast-paced gameplay. The goal was to reduce common pain points and confusion that was present in our last version as well as streamline and simplify the UI. As you can tell, we focused a lot more on the functionality this time around than the art. Even though it might not look as pretty, @Zenity, our UI programmer, and I are confident players will have a much better experience with the new additions and improvements we’ve made.
Demonstrated in the video above, we’ve made the following changes to the inventory:
- Item Swapping - quickly exchange your currently equipped weapon or wearable item (shield, armor piece) with another in looting distance.
- Item Stripping - you can now strip attachments from weapons without having to bring the entire weapon into your inventory.
- Item slots are laid out more intuitively at the bottom of your screen and match a typical keyboard layout.
- Attachment node slots are lined up and a lot closer to your spare attachment slots for quick and easy transfers from weapon to inventory.
- Ability to drop ammo.
- The Extra Capacity Modifier unlocks the 3rd slot for Weapons, Nanomeds, and Grenades, rather than just Weapons.
- Subtle DOF blur added for better weapon focus and reduced visual noise. (can be turned off in settings)
- Player mannequin and armor slots added!
Equippable armor is in! And it turned out really nice on both a gameplay and design level. Here’s how it works: you drop into a match “naked” with just your sexy, skin-tight dropsuit on (which doesn’t offer any additional protection of course) and begin the hunt for gear which now includes Chest, Arms, and Leg armor in additional to the already implemented Helmet which offers both protection and a Safezone navigation compass that pops up on your HUD.
Plenty of balancing will be needed to get the protection values right, but armor behaves similar to body armor in that it reduces damage taken by players from bullets, grenades, and knives. Each time an equipped armor piece is hit, its “health” will drop by a percentage based on how much damage was absorbed. When its health reaches 0, it is destroyed and the the armor piece disappears from the player’s body. As long as the armor health is not zero, it will always provide the same damage reduction.
One thing we’d like to stay away from is giving players too much protection between the personal shield and armor pieces that they become impenetrable tanks. It’s a concern we aim to address with plenty of testing and value tweaking. It should be noted that the personal shield functions like an all-or-nothing shield now, where it prevents all damage until it breaks. We’ll be giving it a very low health value, however, to combat the concern regarding tanky players.
Check out the video above to see the new inventory armor slots and player mannequin in all its glory. (sadly, we don’t have a hunting lodge complete with an armor dealer in the game… yet)
Proximity Voice Chat
This one has been in the works for quite some time. As it turns out, implementing proximity voip in-game and then having a separate, exclusive channel for your teammates is no easy task. But thanks to our friends over at Vivox and the determination of everyone’s favorite intern/programmer @Cobeh, we’ve got both of those things in and ready for plenty of testing! Isn’t that right @Cobeh?
As luck would have it, Vivox literally just rolled out their proximity voip SDK for UE4 and are allowing us to give it a spin. So far, I’m super impressed with its quality as well as its built-in directional panning capabilities. One caveat here is that it’s still in Alpha… so expect some jankiness. Also, Colby says hi.
Anti-troll prevention not yet included
Another feature our very own @Cobeh slam dunked is swimming! It seems the Nyne finally paid a visit to one of our science fairs and learned a thing or two about water density. Be gone are the days of trotting across surfaces of ponds!
There is still some polish needed, but for a first iteration swimming is quite a pleasant experience. One without bugs even! A big reason we made swimming a priority is because it’s such a game changer when it comes to making critical navigation decisions during the course of a match. Not only does swimming make you a slow and easy target, but it also stops you from fighting back given that you’re unable to equip any firearms while underwater. This opens up high risk, high reward scenarios when it comes to looting underwater caches, and also requires you to make quick, tactical decisions in regards to assessing what routes you should take based on where the plasma field is, where it’s heading, and your surrounding cover. Do you take the direct route and swim across the lake risking exposure to enemies? Or do you risk edging around it where there’s more cover but less likely to escape the plasma?
Regardless, we’ll be looking for feedback on swimming and how we can improve it. Right now you can be shot when underwater, and you take full damage. However, we’ll be working on changing that so, like armor, bullets permeating the surface of water will dole out reduced damage to any unfortunate swimmers underneath.
Spectate Camera System
Shoutcasters and camera operators rejoice! Our very own IONCam is functional and just waiting to capture your magnificent deaths and bad aim from every angle in spectacular fashion! This particular spectate mode will only be made available to those casting any official ION tournaments, but we’ll be including access to it for any server hosts once custom servers are launched.
What kind of return would this be if we didn’t add in at least one new weapon? The CX4 Storm, a powerful carbine not featured in many games, has made its way into the arena. Although it technically uses 9mm pistol ammo down here on Earth, the Nyne have modified it to be a viable response to the Sako85 sniper rifle in that it takes Assault Rifle ammo, excels at long range combat, and packs a much bigger punch than its authentic Earth-manufactured counterpart. I personally love it. It feels great, sounds great, and kills great too .
Here’s what it looks like in action
This one’s a big topic of discussion over at the UE4 forums, and one that few developers conquer. I’m talking about world origin rebasing of course! Let me sum up this nightmare and explain what it has to do with the reticle jitter you see above. When you have big levels that exceed around 1km^2 in size, the further away you are from the center, or “origin”, of the level, the weirder things start to get. One of those weird things is the shakiness of certain assets attached to a socket… so attachments are in that category. If you look through any past gameplay footage of ION and look for the jitter, you’ll find it. You’ll also notice that where it looks really bad in some places, it’s hardly detectable in others. That’s because when players are in locations close to the edge of the map, like the lagoon or any beach areas, they are relatively far away from the origin of the map- and attachments don’t like that. If you’re not satisfied with my embarrassingly over-simplification of this phenomenon and would like to know more about it, you can check this UE4 forum’s thread out or just google search it.
Long story short, this was a very upsetting thing for us. As competitive gamers it was eating us up inside knowing that in certain areas of the map it would feel like you’d be having a seizure when looking through any optics, trying to stay on target. Suffice it to say, we weren’t gonna stand for that shit. Alas, with the combined effort of our existing programmers, some new ones, random UE4 threads, Epic engine code updates, and a patient community… we were finally able to cross it off our list. I’m not going to lie… the litany of code commits we went through to get origin rebasing working properly literally broke everything. So, much of the time we spent over the past few months was dedicated to fixing the deep engine and network bugs that came along with the origin rebasing fix. We are relatively certain the majority of these issues have been resolved… but hopefully nothing ugly has gone undetected, ready to spring as soon as servers go back up. But hey, that’s why we’re still in Alpha!
Anyway, it’s a real testament to how talented our programming team is, and I couldn’t be happier now that the origin rebasing nightmare is over (knock on wood). So, please enjoy your jitter free experience come the 25th!
Desert Eagle Fire Animations
The old Desert Eagle ADS (Aim Down Sights) fire animation was pretty unimpressive as far as .50-cal handguns go. @Cole animated us up a new one and we think it’s definitely an upgrade.
One of the many things that kept me up at night was our subpar muzzle flashes. If your players are gonna be firing weapons all the time, you don’t want to skimp on the muzzle flashes. An upgrade was long overdue and I think we have some pretty nice ones for yah this time around. They might seem a little too bright in the comparison video below but the area I was firing in has pretty low-level lighting and we plan on rolling out flash hider barrel attachments soon
We decided to break up the all-weapons-compatible suppressor that you could throw on any weapon you had into individual weapon-type specific suppressors. If that sounds confusing just watch the video and you’ll get it. We think this will bring more balance to suppressors in general in addition to tailoring suppressor stats to individual weapon types that need it (the shotgun for example).
Hard Landing Recovery
Suprisingly, when we turned off fall damage a long time ago as a temporory solution to jump pads, no one seemed to miss it. In fact, more than one person told us to keep it off. Well, ok then! However, we didn’t like that fact that you could leap off a castle tower without so much as a bent knee. Fall damage is easy, we can bring that back whenever we want if it improves gameplay, so why don’t we first try a mobility penalty after landing? Well that’s exactly what we’ve done. This will require plenty of testing and feedback, and most likely a few tweaks to the trigger height and recovery period, but so far it feels really nice and brings a lot more immersion to the game. I don’t think I’ve seen anything like this in an online shooter except for Doom, so let us know what you think in the comments!
Implementation/Programming: @cobeh Animations: @cole, Sound Design: @tomwrightsound,
UMP_45 & Shotgun Buffs
The UMP got a recoil buff, as in we lowered the recoil values to make it a more viable weapon for mid to long range engagements. It still does a ton of damage so hopefully we’ll be seeing it used more frequently in the future. Also, it should be mentioned that the UMP has a very low hipfire spread penalty. It’s a great close quarters, quick draw, hipfire gun. That seems to get overlooked so I thought I should mention it here.
As for the shotty… well, I’m hoping more players will pick it up now that I cranked the close range damage curve up by a significant margin. Looking forward to seeing these changes in action.
Sako85 Sniper Rifle Improvements
The Sako85 sniper rifle now has BF style shooting that you can toggle on or off depending on your preference. Basically that means you have to scope back out to load the chamber. It’s now a lot easier to track your shots with it on, but we also made some adjustments to the Sako model that will allow much better visibility when looking through a scope regardless of what setting you go with.
Our 1-man audio team turned into a 2-man department with the arrival of Benoit @AudioDev, an accomplished audio programmer who just so happens to have worked at Audiokinetic before joining the team. Audiokinetic are the folks behind Wwise, the advanced audio engine we’ve been using instead of UE4’s native one. So, I honestly couldn’t think of a more qualified person to work alongside @TomWrightSound in delivering an exceptional audio experience worthy of your praise. And by Jove, have they delivered.
Debugging gunfire sound occlusion
@TomWrightSound and @AudioDev will be posting a Sound Design update in the near future that will offer an in depth look at the design process and science behind our sounds. But for now, I will give you the TL;DR version.
A while back we were getting complaints in regards to players not being able to pinpoint the location of other players around them -whether that be gunshots or footsteps. Well, the biggest contributor to that was the lack of sound occlusion. Simply, there was no difference in sound when a player was shooting behind a wall or out in the open. This was a particular problem especially with vertical combat (players shooting above or below you). Your ears would pick up the gunshots and your brain would tell you that they were coming from somewhere close around you within your line of sight. So that was one contributor to the problem. Another contributor was that we had Wwise configured for “speakers” when apparently it needed to be set to “headphones”. Go figure. I’m happy to say that with the addition of sound occlusion for both gunshots and footsteps, you shouldn’t have too much trouble pinpointing where players are shooting you from or walking around. Additionally, our main man Benoit added in a fancy debugger (image above) to enable us to visualize when a sound is getting occluded and by what object. There could still be areas where it might not work 100%, so this fancy tool will help us uncover the issue without any trouble.
Bullet impacts and whizzes
Bullet Impact Sounds and whizzes have been improved and redone for the majority of our surfaces.
Footstep sounds above you now sound like someones walking on the floor above you.
Interior/exterior gunshots are now determined from the floor material a player is standing on in addition to audio volumes for more complex interiors.
Other sounds implemented
Jump-pad "a tasteful boing"
Like the majority of these topics, this one in particular needs its own update in order to to do any justice to the shear amount of sweat, blood, and coffee that @ooParanoia’s and his band of mapping misfits @LucasAnnunziata, @Jpeck, @joost put into this update. For now, I will leave you with some eye candy of our new and improved locations. Did I mention we made some lighting improvements?
Tropical Oupost (@jpeck)
New Colosseum & Rome Color Grading (@joost)
Ominous Facility (@jpeck)
Station Reactor (@joost)
Stay tuned for an in-depth post from @ooParanoia going over the design process and decision making behind our current Arena.
One of the biggest priorities over the course of our development cycle was to significantly improve and stabilize framerate for both low-end and high-end machines. After a substantial amount of time invested into isolating performance killers, applying new optimization techniques, and crunching down polys, I am happy to announce that our goals have been met and performance has never been better!
Immediately following our last Alpha weekend, we took a step back and really focused on diagnosing performance issues in both the game thread and level. But first, we needed to invest in a proper low-end rig for testing. We bought a few GTX 570s off of ebay and threw together a couple min-spec machines that we could use to gather the data we needed. That’s right, I’m talkin about the 1.2gig edition too, none of that beefy 2.5gig stuff. Then came our real secret weapon. Greg (@Talun). Greg was 1 of 2 people at Bioware who handled network optimization during the SWTOR days, and despite that game’s shortcomings (although I enjoyed it much) the fact that servers could hold 4000(!!) concurrent players was a damn impressive feat. Now he’s ours, and his expertise with optimization has been invaluable to us. Don’t ever leave us Greg!
So it turns out. among other things, high polycount throughout the level seemed to be our biggest bottleneck where performance was concerned. This was exacerbated by the fact that a lot of the sightlines throughout the arena allow players to see very far off in the distance, unobstructed by scenery. I’m sure @ooParanoia and Greg could co-author a 200 page report on everything they learned and carried out during this time, but long story short, much was done to improve performance all around, and we’re now averaging 44 FPS on our min-spec machines (yes, on LOW, but it still looks pretty good imo). Not bad for a 7 year old ancient GTX 570 1.2gig eh? If you’ve got a more common GPU like a GTX 1060 or RX 480, You’ll be averaging 60+ on EPIC settings, easily. However, I will say that there are some areas around the level that still need work. I’m still seeing 1 or 2 sightlines that drop you down to 40 so I can’t promise a 100% stable experience at 60fps. Oh yeah, did I mention that we nuked that medieval town next to the castle? Not only were those assets quite ugly, but that entire town was a huge performance killer… RIP. Tom has since replaced it with a beautiful farm town, complete with lush fields and quaint little huts. It also plays and performs spectacularly.
On a final note, there’s still 1 or 2 tricks we’ve got up our sleeves to bring frames up even higher without sacrificing quality. If all goes well with our fancy new instaLOD plugin, we’ll be seeing some even bigger gains.
Microstutters, freezes, stalls, whatever name you have for em… they’re nasty things and no one should be experiencing them. As of this writing, I can tell you that there are still a few hitches present during the drop-in sequence and sometimes when crossing into an area that loads in a bunch of assets all at once. Apparently I am very sensitive to these things because barely anyone else on the team even notices them. Regardless, they bother me so that means they must be dealt with! This week, @ooparanoia will hopefully be doing just that. It seems a breakthrough was made using our new instaLOD plugin that could allow us to not only eliminate any remaining hitches, but solve any level streaming issues (houses and large assets not loading in the distance where they should be) and slow-loading assets when dropping in (we had numerous cases where players on mechanical HDDs would land and nothing would be loaded for at least a minute). The slow-loading assets issue was actually already solved by Greg, but it’s at the expense of longer loading screen times. Not a huge deal, but if we don’t have to sacrifice anything for a huge gain, we should seize that opportunity.
Greg’s been busy doing what he does best: ensuring a lag-free experience with impeccable hit registration. So far he’s already committed some huge optimizations where item spawns and movement updates are concerned. One nice thing about working on a BR title using UE4 is that Epic seems to have made some nice engine updates very relevant to our needs. 4.16, the version we’re currently on luckily comes with a feature that limits the rate at which clients can send movement updates. It was one of the key optimizations that fortnite used to scale up apparently. According to Greg, what this does is it’ll take a client running at 60 FPS and reduce the movement overhead by 50%. Overwatch has theirs set to 30Hz so I think that’s a good starting place for us as well. Thanks Epic!
In addition to network optimizations, he also created an Addbot command which allows our testers to… well… add bots! Sometimes they stand around… watching… waiting… other times they just start booking it whichever direction most suits their AI desires. Anyway, they’re great for target practice as well as loading servers up for stress testing. We can fill the prequeue station up with 100 bots with ease. However, we’ll still need to stress test with real players in order to get an accurate representation of how our servers will handle that many live players. We’ll most likely be starting with 50 per server for this upcoming Alpha wave and then scale up once we’re confident things are running smoothly.
If you can’t already tell by the amount of progress we’ve made in the past few months, we’ve had some real winners climb aboard this steadfast ship of ours. It truly amazes me how some of these unicorns are just out there, grazing the fields and looking for greener pastures. I’m hoping they enjoy the work here only just a fraction of how much I appreciate their contributions and insight. Love you guys!
Greg @Talun - Network Engineer/Senior Programmer from Canada
Brett @Fritters - Gameplay Programmer from Canada
Reuben @reubenw- Gameplay Programmer from New Zealand
Joost @joost- Environment Artist from Belgium
Lucas @LucasAnnunziata - Environment Artist from Canada (but he’s really American)
Benoit @audiodev- Audio Programmer from Finland
Jack - Backend Programmer from Ireland
Chris - FX Artist from Greece
See you soon!
Wowee… well I think that covers everything worth covering at the moment. I hope the team got a nice break from my incessant nagging while I took the time to write this up… cuz it’s back to work people! You hear me @cobeh?!
Anyway, we are all working long hours to get the game out to you, and there’s quite a bit more work and testing still to be done before I can sleep soundly knowing that we’ll have a stable build up and running come November 25th. We’re so close!! From performance improvements and optimization to new locations and weapon additions, we’ll all continue to work late nights and weekends to ensure that Islands of Nyne sets the pace for the Battle Royale genre and hits the ground running.
To our early Kickstarter/Paypal campaign backers and Pre-alpha contributors, we haven’t forgotten about you! And I hope you haven’t forgotten about us . I look forward to seeing old names and new ones once servers go back up. And I also look forward to seeing some of our ridiculously talented players take down the legendary Jtolt… (please don’t hold back).
See you in the dome!
Spaghetti bot awaits patiently for your arrival