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Steady Progress

It's been awhile since we had a newspost, so here's a brief one to mention a few things in the works over the last few weeks (and weeks to come).

We're still working towards our 1.8 milestone, which will hopefully include three different Hives and a fully distributed Kourier back-end. Erlang (the language used to develop Kourier) is built to be distributed, but so far we haven't done so. Now that the system is beginning to go "prime-time", we're going to balance it across the entire cluster, to make sure we have a stable and scalable base on which to build future gameplay features. Michael is working on this, at present, and once we've done ample testing, we'll be rolling that out.

Andy has been working on his bot redux for some time now, but keeps getting sidetracked (by me, and others) to work on more immediate priorities. For the last couple of weeks he helped me out tremendously by adding a lot of new functionality to the PCC mission editor. We also have a greatly-rewritten version of the editor "engine" that is not yet in production, but has vast speed improvements. Part of the problem with writing missions has always been that the editor becomes very sluggish once the mission reaches a certain level of complexity. This was due to decisions we made early on to try and keep the editor compatible with all browsers. We've since abandoned this and required Firefox (as PCC members can attest), and now we've also scrapped most of the "compatibility" oriented code for an editor with better performance. Editing large, complex missions, like the recently-released "High Risk Courier" mission from Corvus, are now much easier to develop and fix. Some of this work is still ongoing, however, as the "new" editor still has some outstanding problems, and there's a few features we have yet to add (like the ability to pick a random asteroid sector *without* a storm). These changes will make a big impact on mission development, and even make it possible to release some already-submitted PCC missions from the userbase (a common problem has always been the desire to use asteroid sectors, and then the mission breaking if there happens to be a storm there when the user tries it).

For those who have no idea what a "PCC" is.. I'm referring to our Player Contribution Corps, a group of players who have applied to help create content for the game in various ways, the biggest of which is currently creating missions. The PCC has been somewhat in "testing" over this past year, and hasn't really been fully launched, hence why it isn't linked directly from the website. We are hoping to launch it more definitively in the near future; once we get some of these problems ironed out, work out some issues with the PCC application/approval process and add some features to help the PCC community collaborate on their creations.

Ray is currently on vacation, spending some time with his family, but he'll be back shortly. Over the last couple of weeks he has been moving a lot of "item" data into the database. Historically, we've stored most static information in flat Lua files, which we would change to add or update various objects and items and the like. Unfortunately, this makes it impossible to do anything interesting or dynamic with the items (like, say, rolling out a new economy), and it also makes it troublesome to add new "stuff" into the game. To create an addon I have to edit some Lua files, then push them onto the test server and run a special development client (which may or may not work, depending on development state), and then eventually do a full client patch to push them out to the userbase. We made this choice, a long time ago, as it minimized the amount of data that had to be downloaded by a user when they entered the game (remember, we started development in 1998, the dialup era). We're now moving towards more of a "hybrid" situation, where most data is in the game database and can be updated on the fly, and potentially cached on the client. With this, we can create an "object editor" much like the PCC editor, accessible within a web browser and allowing one to create any kind of object.. ship, addon, trade good, etc, using pre-existing art assets. One could then test this on the Test server, and then push it directly onto the production server, just like we do with PCC missions. At first this sort of tool would be only for developers, but down the road it might be another way that the PCC playerbase could help contribute. Obviously, creating new ships, addons, and other content has a lot of gameplay ramifications, so I wouldn't expect PCC access in the immediate future, but even solely as a Dev tool it will make the creation of gameplay content a much less arduous task. And that's without even touching on the benefits to a new economic system and the like.

Since everyone else is working on critical-but-invisible development (not like anyone's going to go "Woo woo, the Hive is spread across the entire server cluster now, I just can't tell!"), I've been trying to keep a steady stream of new Stuff rolling into the game, such as I can. A bunch of new higher-level missions have been released, along with some interesting new content (Centurion Superlight, Corvus Widowmaker, a.. certain BioCom addon, etc). The Grid Power system is in effect and seems to be working fine and well received. I have taken note of all the requests to drop the Grid Usage of certain non-combat addons, like mineral scanners, mining lasers, radar extenders and the like. I will be doing this. To date, I have not done this because, with Ray in the middle of moving a lot of the related information into the database, trying to update that information before he's totally completed his implementation would have been.. dangerous. So, I've delayed for a little while while he finishes that up. Over the coming weeks I hope to push my focus more towards some longer-term design stuff, and bringing the Trac online and all that. I had expected to be able to do a lot of this mission stuff much more quickly, but Andy and I found a whole lot of mission-related bugs and editor problems, so we dedicated some (well-spent) time to eradicating them.

I also want to add a bunch of new addons and missions to the lower levels of the game. Particularly for miners and other areas which are very starved for content at present. My "hacked-together crafting" missions on the upper levels of the game seem to be fairly well received (and, functional, after a few fixes), so I'd like to add some of that for lower level miners, and some interesting/useful new addons. We're also trying to add more capship related missions.. the High Risk Courier mission was my first big use of capships thus far, they previously had a lot of reliability issues relating to the whole "bot rewrite" stuff that Andy is trying to get done. Anyway, they're pretty functional now, although still not ready for player usage (still working on that), but at least ready for more mission usage. I'd like to see more Group missions involving capships, and.. general military track missions and the like, so hopefully we'll see some of that in the near-term. Some of the PCC people (like PsyRa) have also been working on cap-related missions, and I look forward to those being ready for production.

That's about it for now, I hope everyone's having a happy holidays. It's rather cold and snowy here in Wisconsin, home to Guild Software, but this makes for a lot of time spent indoors productively coding :). As always, please post about any problems to the boards. Oh, and as a sidenote, a user suggested we try Twitter for realtime announcements of new production content (like missions), so if you'd like to follow our new Vendetta Online Twitter, you can get immediate instant messages or even cellphone SMS messages whenever we push out anything new.

Take care, all.