Vendetta Online 1.8.322

VO 1.8.322 includes:
- Added prototype shadows to Linux OpenGL 4 driver. This implementation differs from the DirectX 11 version in that it uses a Percentage Closer Filter with a Poisson distribution to anti-alias the shadows.
- Added dynamic light sources to more "neon-style" signs, visible in the prototype DX11 or OpenGL drivers.
- Decreased the font size of the account conversion menu for mobile devices.

Getting closer to wrapping up our work on the renderer, we should hopefully have just a bit more related work, and then be done for awhile.

Shadows are kind of an interesting set of challenges, as each algorithm comes with its own set of visual problems (artifacts) that need to be mitigated. We're using 4X anti-aliased variance shadow maps (VSM) on DX11, as we appreciated the smooth shadow edges we get from anti-aliasing, but we don't love its inherent problems with thin-object shadows "fading in" near their origin.

Thus, on OpenGL (for Linux, not yet for Mac) we're testing an implementation of traditional Percentage Closer Filter (PCF) shadow maps using a poisson disc to smooth the edges. This has the added benefit that it can be implemented on mobile by packing floats into RGBA, where this is not really possible (or is at least highly problematic) with a numerically-unstable variance algorithm. It may also be a little faster on older hardware (and uses less memory); but really, shadows have not been a big speed hit for us, compared to dynamic lighting and other factors. Unfortunately, PCFs also come with their own set of visual problems/artifacts, issues like shadow acne, a kind of flickering of maps appearing on certain surfaces, that have to be optimized with specific bias settings. There are particular challenges with rounded rotating asteroids. But on average it looks pretty good (which can be said about either algorithm).

In both cases, the maps are placed on a single texture atlas for all four cascade levels. Cascades being shadow maps rendered to cover various distance-ranges, so you get high resolution close to you, but lower resolution off in the distance. Because of our huge view distance (20km or more), we're probably going to need another set of cascades to achieve the desired "final" fidelity on PC, but it's not bad as it is.

So far, these algorithms have all been implemented for relatively fixed, "directional light" shadows coming from the primary lightsource (the nearest star/sun), but we intend to also add another couple of cases. Omni/spot lights under some situations (short distance shadows that don't travel far, cast by ship engines, for instance) will add a lot of nice effect with movement; a capship flying near a station or asteroids, for instance. Similarly, a special shadow map on your own ship (for 3rd-person views) will add a lot higher fidelity to self-shadowing than what we can achieve using the cascades-covering-20km.

It's very common for game engines to use several different types of shadows for different environments and effects. Variance shadow maps can be easily blurred in hardware, for instance, where PCF shadow maps cannot. Thus, if we want to create heavily softened maps for omni lights in a fogged sector, for instance, that might lend itself to VSMs. Or, even with all directional and omni lights in unfogged scenes using anti-aliased VSMs, we might still use a PCF for self-shadowing your ship, so that all small details are sharply shadowed and defined (even when the shadow-caster is relatively small or thin, like a winglet or turret).

As always, game development is a series of calculated tradeoffs to try and achieve a desired effect. There are few ideal solutions, mostly it's based on what works best for the specific kind of game, content, environment, desired experience, etc. This is one of the reasons we've been happy to have our own in-house engine. While we may spend time on this kind of R&D, where shadows might simply be a "check box" on an available middleware engine, we're doing the best implementation for our specific situation. Most engines are built for first-person shooters and/or lightweight "casual" games, not for open-world space MMOs with galactically-gigantic universes. Even at triple-A studios who are actually making first-person-shooters (many friends of ours), they often end up spending practically the same amount of time heavily-modifying and "hacking" the middleware engine to do what they want, a sometimes-ironic set of tradeoffs.

Of course, back when we started in the mid/late 90s, there practically were no middleware engines anyway, let alone the free ones of today (the quake1-test debuted about the time we were building network code, and by the time Unreal shipped, VO was recognizably playable). But even so, being able to implement our own optimal solution to our specific set of challenges has always been a strength, and the game is better for it.

Vendetta Online 1.8.320-321

VO 1.8.320 and 1.8.321 included:

- Added dynamic light sources to many of the "neon-style" floating signs, visible in the prototype DX11 or OpenGL drivers.
- New sound effects: Avalon Torpedo impact/explosions, queen and capship explosions, and special Heavy Assault Cruiser explosion effects.
- Preliminary dynamic lights have been added to the docking and launch bays.
- Fixed the glow effect so it isn't so over-bright.
- Shadowmap cascade levels are consolidated into 1 texture atlas
instead of 4 separate textures.
- Tweaked the shadow cascade transition to be more subtle.
- Tweaked render state changes in the DirectX 11 driver.
- Ice asteroids and solar panels now receive shadows.

Improvements continue to the rendering engine, and the assets to help enable them. Plus, some new sound effects, and you can expect more to appear as well.

It's hard to convey the impact of lighting our signs dynamically, and having them influence their surroundings; it adds a tremendous sense of "presence" to the environment. Our "floating neon" signs flicker on and off, and change colors as they always have, but now they illuminate nearby objects and ships as well. This may seem like a subtle change, and it is, but I'm really enjoying the overall effect:


Vendetta Online 1.8.319

VO 1.8.319 includes:

- Fixed long blank screen pause when switching video drivers.
- Fixed performance issue for DirectX 11 driver when not rendering the station behind the station interface.
- Improved and tweaked shadow settings for DirectX 11 driver. Shadows are now anti-aliased and the darkness of shadows has been decreased further.

For those who are interested, and can't yet see the new DX11 changes, I've made a little before-and-after demo screenshot of the current state of the engine. Please bear in mind that this is a very preliminary screenshot, and not indicative of anything remotely final.

In fact, we're still deep in development on the DX11/OpenGL 4 renderer. There are some particular challenges that we face as an open-world game set in space, with sectors of unlimited scale. Shadows maps, for instance, have a set resolution and need to cover the entire viewable terrain. For most games, even some recent "open world" shooters, that's still relatively modest compared to even our (current) view distance. Since 2002, we've had a 20 kilometer far-Z, which (for reference) would let any current player's view encompass about 3x the entire gameworld of Skyrim. This adds challenges to stretching shadow maps over such a large area, while making them "look good" up close, and not using a tremendous amount memory.

On top of that, we're looking to drastically increase our visible Z range (due to extremely large capship-stations and other objects coming in future versions), perhaps to "near-infinitely" through the use of multiple Z ranges along with imposter rendering. All of this makes for a lot of R&D and testing, to find something that works "best" for our particular usage.

Usage is key, as each effect implementation, and rendering architecture choice, has its own set of tradeoffs. Different algorithms come with particular artifacts, and a lot of this kind of research is figuring out what looks the "best", while also giving you the desired flexibility, framerate and overhead that you require.. and that's going to vary, game-to-game. We're a space title, so "soft" shadows aren't really our thing, except as a special case (ion storms, mining-debris fog), as we generally don't have the kind of environmental atmospherics that provide this sort of "soft" diffusion. So we're currently testing some effective sharp-edged (anti-aliased) solutions that scale well over long distance.

But what's most important is how the effects will be used. Eye candy is nice enough, but it really needs to justify its existence (and impact on framerate) through value in storytelling, and in the immersive experience. It's these environments that I find the most exciting, the most inspiring of game design. Situations that might fill a player with genuine fear, or awe. Images that might let us each tell how we've "seen things you people wouldn't believe.."

I can't wait to show you what we have coming.

Vendetta Online 1.8.317-318

Happy Holidays!

In honor of the occasion, we have a few things to announce, including a newsletter update, and some graphical improvements in the latest versions (Shadows in DX11!).

Additionally, we also are in our standard Holiday Promo, welcoming back any player who has previously had a Premium-level subscription to the game (more than 60 days ago), they may play for free between December 25th and January 1st! We hope we see a lot of older veteran players popping by to say hi!

VO 1.8.317-318 included:

- Very "beta" prototype implementation of Shadows, for DirectX 11 only (OpenGL will require some changes and will come later). Contains numerous known artifacts, bugs and things that need tweaking. Made available as a demo-prototype only, to let people see something we have cooking.

To disable shadows if the framerate is too low, type "/set rdoshadows 0" (without quotes) in the console or chat.

For those interested in rendering tech, this is a test using cascaded variance shadow maps, and is not necessarily the final algorithm we may choose (and even if we did choose to use this, there would be many tweaks and fixes). We're in an R&D phase on much of this rendering technology.

- Tweaked the shadow cascade level distance calculations to improve quality.
- Decreased the darkness of the shadows.
- Removed shadows in fog sectors.

Vendetta Online 1.8.316

VO 1.8.316 includes:

- Fixed buffer overrun in prototype OpenGL driver for Linux.
- Added reminder to mobile version to convert the one-click account so character progression isn't lost.
- Added a periodic request to rate the mobile version of Vendetta Online.

We're hard at work on another round of graphical improvements, trying to finish these up around the end of the year. It was hoped that some more changes would be debuting in this release, but they were not stable enough as of yet. Next week is more likely.

In the meantime, please continue to post any problems you find in using the "OpenGL 4" GKGL driver, and we'll continue debugging them on our end. It isn't trivial to resolve some of these issues; it can be nearly impossible when the failure is actually somewhere deep in the driver, but we'll do our best to find workarounds if we can.

Thanks everyone, have a great weekend!

Vendetta Online 1.8.315

VO 1.8.315 includes:

- New prototype OpenGL driver has been added to Linux. To try it out, go to Options -> Video -> Change driver... and select 'OpenGL 4 GKGL driver'. Multiple dynamic lights are enabled with this driver if your GPU supports the GL_ARB_ES2_compatibility extension. Dynamic lights include weapon fire, rocket/missile/ship exhaust, and explosions.
- Strikeforce are now launched when you have Temp-KOS against Corvus and you enter Corvus monitored space.
- Auto-aim can only be toggled up to twice per second.
- Fixed a bug where Capture-the-Cargo ended twice at the same time.
- Fixed rendering issues when changing Scaling mode on certain Android devices.
- Optimized nearby dynamic-light finding algorithm.
- Added optimization to consolidate multiple nearby lights.

This new version continues the recent graphics improvements, now with a prototype renderer for Linux players. We expect there to be problems and artifacts on certain drivers, so please report any issues in detail on the Bugs forum (a thread has already been started). Linux drivers are unfortunately not quite as gaming-robust as Windows, simply because the chip manufacturers making the original drivers tend to put more time into the platforms with the largest gaming market share. The teams of volunteers working on the open-source drivers do a great job, but often have fewer developer resources than the huge teams placed on Windows and console platforms. Thus, we could really use everyone's help to track down and work around any bugs we discover under Linux OpenGL, to try and make the experience as stable as possible.

Although the new driver is called "OpenGL 4", it does not necessarily require openGL 4.x native support. It does require the GL_ARB_ES2_compatibility extension, which for some chips is available even though the rest of the driver only supports OpenGL 2.x or 3.x (Intel integrated laptop GPUs, for instance). The GL_ARB_ES2_compatibility extension became required in OpenGL 4.1, but is also supported by many GPUs that do not actually support 4.x.

As a final reminder, if you're interested in testing Vendetta Online for iOS, please sign up here! We are only taking a limited number of people, so sign up as soon as possible!

Thanks everyone, have a great weekend.

Vendetta Online 1.8.314

VO 1.8.314 includes:

- Trident Powercells now have 125 Grid Power, but very high mass.
- New Trident-specific turrets, requiring 25 grid power, available in certain sectors (Capship Swarm Turret, Capital Cannon).
- Added dynamic lights to the Jump and Warp animations.
- DirectX 11 dynamic light shaders are more efficient.
- Added screen resolution and anti-aliasing options to the DirectX 11 driver.
- Added support for x86 based Android devices.
- Added support for AndroidTV and the Nexus Player.

The new Trident weapons should open the door for some exciting new combat usage of these fine player-own capital ships. This was a gameplay change specifically requested by the player base, and I'm glad we could make it happen.

Additionally, the DirectX 11 dynamic lighting shaders are about 20-25% faster, which should be helpful on slower DX 10 hardware, like integrated laptop GPUs. We expect to optimize this further, but we need to see do some more profiling and analysis. We had hoped to also include OpenGL support for dynamic lighting in this release, but it will have to wait until the next one.

Support for x86 (Intel) based Android devices is a fairly significant change for us. X86-based Android phones and tablets represent a growing market share that we want to support. One of these is the new Nexus Player device, which lets you play games (like ours) on your TV, using a special subset of the platform called "AndroidTV". Our game now supports this, but it may still be a little while before the title actually appears on AndroidTV devices, as it requires specific testing and approval from Google.

That's all for now everyone. Have a great week, and weekend, and for those of you in the US, a Happy Thanksgiving!

Vendetta Online 1.8.313

VO 1.8.313 includes:

- Mine explosions no longer do double-damage to the person laying them.
- Weapon shot visual-effects are less likely to pass through objects.
- Re-arming free equipment during Deneb War military missions now includes text to say the purchases are free.
- Touch-screen HUD graphics slightly improved, to indicate the left input area is a region, as opposed to buttons.
- Initial single-player tutorial now uses the TPG Raptor instead of the EC-89.

Also: iPad owners, if you're interested in helping test the next iOS version of Vendetta Online, then sign up here. This initial build is iPad-only, but future versions will include support for the iPhone and iPod Touch (devices with iOS 7 or better required). The beta testing pool is limited, so sign up now!

In other news, we're continuing to develop and optimize the next-generation graphics engine. We managed to get another 25% performance boost out of a new version of the dynamic lighting shader; we have not yet released this shader update, as we're continuing to work on enhancing framerates.

Gameplay changes are also coming up, but the rendering engine work needs to be "done" all at once, so we're pushing to get that out of the way.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Vendetta Online 1.8.312

VO 1.8.312 includes:

- Added dynamic lighting to asteroid mining effect.

This was actually a very productive week, as Ray has been working really hard to back-propagate many of the newer DX11 effects to OpenGL. Unfortunately, this also uncorked a whole slew of new issues, related to particular chipset drivers and various incompatibilities. He's pushed through and straightened out much of it, but we still have more work to do before this will be production-ready.

In the meantime, Curt has added some cool new lighting effects for those who can see it , with the mining impact-area now illuminating things (the asteroid, for instance). It is not currently colored, as the actual mining flare itself is always white. But, we may change that, to make the flare match the color of the mining beam, to add a little more color (and information) to the universe. For the moment though, we think it jazzes up those skyscapes of NPCs mining in the distance.

Have a great weekend, everyone.

Vendetta Online 1.8.311

VO 1.8.311 includes:

- Improved two areas of player hit-checking to make hits more accurate under all circumstances. This should improve PvP for everyone, whether individual player ping-times are high or low.
- Added dynamic lighting to ship damage fire effects.
- Fixed problem with dynamic lights sometimes not being removed.

We think these recent improvements to the network code will be quite helpful to a lot of PvP situations. Please let us know how it works. We also have some further ideas, which take a bit more development time than we could dedicate this week, but we'll be continuing to work on this area.

Visual effects continue to be enhanced for dynamic lighting and other features. The flames of a burning Teradon now illuminate its surface with a dimly fluctuating orange glow, as well as other nearby objects, adding a little more immersion. Dynamic lighting will be added to wormhole effects and other things in the near future.

Beyond that, we've done a lot more consolidation and optimization of the new dynamic lighting engine as a whole, and have begun to back-propagate development into a new OpenGL 4.1 renderer. Linux and Mac people with OpenGL 4.1-compliant graphics hardware can look forward to the updated visual effects.

Lastly, remember to stop by Sedina D-2 on Sunday, 2014-11-09 20:30:00 GMT, for the 414th weekly Nation War! A great opportunity to test out the new hit-check network code improvements.

Vendetta Online 1.8.310

VO 1.8.310 includes:

- Fixed X-based multithreaded rendering crashes on Linux.
- Fixed problem with not being able to enter the universe on very lossy network connections.
- Changed the fallback MTU network packet size if MTU discovery fails.
- Dynamic lighting now supports DirectX 10.0 hardware using the DX11 driver.

Please immediately report any major/recurring problems in connectivity or game-login via support tickets on the game website. We've done quite a bit to improve the game's robustness under unusual networking situations, but there could always be side effects to what we've changed.

If you have DX10 hardware, definitely check out the new dynamic lighting implementation. But be aware that we intend to make it considerably faster.

Vendetta Online 1.8.309

VO 1.8.309 includes:

- Lightsources from weapons are now colored to match their visual effect.
- Added support for multiple lightsources to more ships.
- Fixed crashes when changing video drivers or resolution when in multi-threaded rendering mode.
- DirectX 11 driver now chooses window-mode if it cannot go to fullscreen-mode instead of falling back to the DirectX 9 driver
- Switching video drivers should no longer cause graphical artifacts.

This release brings the new lighting model in DX11 much closer to its intended goal, although still missing a few things. Fire effects from damaged ships don't yet emit light, nor do station floodlights or "floating neon" advertising signs, etc. A few types of materials still don't receive dynamic lighting (station solar panels), although most of them now do.

Many of the stability issues have been addressed as well. If anyone is still having problems changing to or using the DirectX 11 driver, please post to the Bugs forum and let us know (with screenshots, if possible). DirectX 11 will soon become the default driver for Windows, although we'll still retain the other driver as a compatibility fallback for a long time to come.

But, before it can become the default, there's some optimization work that has to happen, as well as adding a lot of the well-known options to the driver. Once the optimization work has happened, and the shaders have stabilized, we'll begin back-propagating support to the other PC platforms (Linux and Mac). A much newer OpenGL version will probably be required for advanced graphics features, possibly OpenGL 4.1; although again, we will still retain the older driver as a fallback for older hardware.

If the new lighting is slow for your computer, don't lose heart. Continue using the DirectX 9 version for now. We expect to speed things up quite a bit in the near future. We'll go into a bit more of a technical discussion about the nature of the changes once things have stabilized as well.

If graphics updates aren't your thing, no worries, it'll only be a few weeks and we'll be back to other topics :).

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Vendetta Online 1.8.308

- New prototype DirectX 11 driver has been added. To try it out, go to Options -> Video -> Change driver... and select 'DirectX11 GKGL driver'. Multiple dynamic lights are enabled with this driver if your GPU supports DirectX 11-level features. Dynamic lights include weapon fire, rocket/missile/ship exhaust, and explosions.
- Corvus Greyhound (and Painted variants) changed from 250 to 190 thrust, 8250 to 7500 armor.

This version includes a significant renderer change, that being the addition of dynamic lightsources. For the moment, this includes a limited subset of the flare "lights" in the game, but does cover a lot of the most common (ship engines, rockets, energy weapons, as mentioned above). The light color is not yet correct to the visual effect in some cases.

This is still early in development, and we're still testing, but we think it looks pretty cool thus far. For now the feature is limited to those with DirectX 11 support, using the DX11 internal driver on Windows. You can manually select the DX11 driver in the Video area of Settings. Once the lighting has been stabilized, we'll add support to Linux, Mac and possibly other platforms. These improvements are primarily directed at the PC, where the performance margins are quite large.

There will be other renderer improvements coming as well. We have a lot of gameplay work to do, but for specific reasons we needed to get this renderer development out of the way quickly. Thus, it's been bumped up a little in priority. On the flipside, the game should get a lot cooler looking in a short period of time. I hope you all enjoy it.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Vendetta Online 1.8.307

VO 1.8.307 includes:

- Fixed weapon hit-check failures.
- Masked off the regions near the HUD's touch controls from being used for touch-targeting so it is more difficult to accidentally change your target while flying.
- Linux OpenGL drivers now use the pbuffer extension if available for off-screen rendering.
- Fixed incorrect Vendetta Online logo size when loading the different Offline Training Simulator sections.
- Android version now automatically re-tries certain types of download failures during installation.

We have a lot of work going on behind the scenes right now, this is an interim release until some of the other development is ready. We're trying very hard to get to a point on mobile where we can wrap some of this platform-specific development and get back to overall gameplay work. Among other things, you can expect near-term changes to station defenses, strike forces and certain early missions. We'll also do our best to drop in some high-level content as well. New assets are still in development (capship stations), etc. We'll talk more about that in the next newsletter.

Until then, have a great weekend!

Vendetta Online 1.8.306

VO 1.8.306 includes:

- Added support for Oculus Rift DK2 by updating the SDK to 0.4.2. The DK2 must be in Extended Desktop mode and rotated to 1920x1080. If you experience a massive amount of flickering, try turning off Anti-Aliasing in Options -> Video -> Antialiasing mode.
- The amount of Crystal your character has is no longer shown on Trial accounts and does on PC Lite accounts.
- Fixed clipped Sector Notes menu on 1080p devices.
- Fixed inter-sector loading screen size on mobile devices.
- The 5 minute Lite warning menu is no longer shown on PCs if you are subscribed as a Lite account.
- Training II mission's explanation of the No-Fire-Zone (NFZ) has been fixed to say 'damaged' instead of 'destroyed'.

Some much-needed bugfixes, and an important update for the Oculus Rift. Probably a raft of other bugfixes coming as well, before we can focus on new content.