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Now featuring.. Voice Chat!

I haven't written a newspost in awhile, but now we have something newsworthy to announce:

As of tonight's release (1.8.20), Vendetta Online has integrated, multiplatform Voice Chat in public testing! In other words, using a properly-configured microphone or headset, you can now talk to other people in Vendetta Online (for the moment, only people with whom you are grouped). Even if you have no microphone, you can still listen to other people who do have mics, allowing for enhanced in-game organization. This is the "confidential" project that I mentioned in a couple of previous newsposts. I'd like to explain a little bit about how this feature came about, and what it means for the game as we move forward.

We were approached a couple of months ago by a third-party company developing a multiplatform voice chat solution, who wanted an integration testbed for their product. Vendetta Online being one of a relatively small number of truly multiplatform games (our game is strictly native on each platform, we do not use any wrapper libraries for porting, unlike most other MMOs), they saw us as an ideal production test-case. For the moment, we aren't formally announcing anything about who they are or their product, they'll handle that whenever they're ready.

I know many people are going to be very excited by this new feature, while others may say something like "of all the gameplay and work that VO needs, why Voice Chat?", and the answer is simply: timing. A time-dependent offer to work with this other company came along, and while Voice Chat was not at the top of our "most-needed" list, the idea of adding a major feature like this with a very short integration period was too good to pass up. I state this mostly so our longtime users won't think I've become completely out of touch with all the other areas of the core game that still need work: we're well aware, but this had major benefits with a relatively low time investment.

Voice Chat has actually been in the game for a few weeks now, for small-scale testing by the Guides, and then by the PCC; but we're now ready to open things up to the general userbase. I want everyone to keep in mind, this is basically a "beta" test from several standpoints:

1) The voice chat feature is based on relatively new code, both ours and theirs, and requires further testing. Plus, the entire "voice chat" concept has various caveats on different platforms. Linux, for instance, has demonstrated some problems for people using USB headsets (or any ALSA "second input"), or for those running Ubuntu (pulse audio). We suspect there will be more of these kinds of "platform" type issues to be sorted out as we go along (after all, that is the point of testing). For the moment, we recommend Linux people check the Linux Forum for workarounds. We'll be posting a sticky thread relating to voice chat in linux, with what we know to date.

2) Our voice chat server is currently running on an "interim" machine in our office, rather than a true "production" quality setup in our colo facility. This makes it dependent on our office's power and internet connectivity, both of which are fairly good, but have been known to occasionally have issues. We will be migrating the voice chat server to a more production-quality setup, located with all the other game servers, hopefully in the next couple of weeks. Until then, well, it should be fine, but just an FYI if it should go down.

For the moment, Voice Chat is disabled by default, and must be manually enabled. This is done to be sure that VO itself will remain as compatible as ever, regardless of other independent problems that might crop up with the chat libraries. You can find the controls to enable it in the Options panel. It has been previously tested on Windows XP (32bit), Vista (64bit), Linux/32, Linux/64, and OS X (both PPC and Intel). Please let us know of any problems you find (post on Bugs on the forums, or the platform-specific forum areas).

We had hoped that this release would include an "input device" selection option in the game, permitting you to choose between multiple recording inputs. However, some platform instabilities have prevented that from making it into tonight's update, so you will need to be sure you have the correct recording input configured as "default" in your operating system.

A related bit of general advice: it is usually best to make sure your recording device (microphone, headset, whatever) is functional in your general OS before trying to get it working in the game. Plus, you will *probably* need to tweak the microphone input levels on your OS mixer before you'll be properly "loud and clear" when speaking to others. See the Help page in the Voice Chat Options for more information on viewing mic levels within the game, and guidelines on how they should probably look.

That's about it for the current Voice Chat situation. As for how things will move in the future, we hope to make use of this feature in a lot of different ways down the road. For instance, tying it into a hierarchy-of-groups ("squads") structure for major military conflicts, allowing for "command" players to pass voice commands down to subordinates and squad leaders, along with defining targets and objectives. In the short term, we hope to make chat a more generically useful feature, as well, rather than just a function of Grouping (allowing Guilds to chat, for example, or generic channels). This all has design and implementation caveats that have yet to be worked out, but that is the direction in which we are headed.

On to other news. In my last post, I mentioned a lot of changes to the new-user-signup process, including the 16 hour trial accounts and email confirmation. These are still going to take place, they've simply been delayed due to some time constraints on that individual developer. No worries, these will all appear before long.

There's also work swirling around the public release of the Trac system, improvements to Border Skirmish, changes to faction standing, friendly fire and the universe as a whole, new missions and lots of other jazz. However, I'll cover those in future newsposts, as this one has grown long enough.

As always, thanks for your support, we hope you enjoy this update.