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A Recap of Recent Developments

The last couple of months have included:

- Reworked the initial-startup of the game client to make the defaults more appealing: Game detects and offers to use the desktop resolution on first-run (hopefully the native resolution for people on LCDs). Startup logos and loading screens now aspect-correct. Special field-of-view defaults now in place for various widescreen aspect ratios, including specific HUD-scaling settings.

- Players can now "forgive" their killers in places where faction standing loss would occur, to help with accidental kills and the like, especially as Friendly Fire restrictions are removed. Yes, more tweaking to come on this.

- New asteroid textures, with enhanced default settings for 256MB and 512MB videocards.

- Improved defenses for Nation territory and Capitols (to protect newbies). Expect more tweaks here as well.

- Station cargo limits dropped from 200,000 Cubic Units (cu) to 10,000cu, with an option to "rent" more at each station for a recurring cost. More tweaks needed here.

- Most higher-level ship prices drastically increased. Newbie ships still very inexpensive.

- Demand (and sell price) of items now dynamically change with the quantity being offered for sale. This effectively removes "mass-sale" trade strategies, although further tweaking and tier-based pricing can be expected in the future.

General News, and Why we made these Development Choices

It's been quite a while since I posted a substantive newspost, but unlike my usual mea-culpa, in this case I'll simply say that I've been way too busy improving the game. Overall, a good thing, but it's still no less important to keep everyone informed, especially as our development plans take unexpected twists and turns. So, here goes..

Faction Changes and removal of Friendly Fire limitations

People have been waiting for this change for quite some time, and it is coming along quite well. Not, perhaps, as well as I hoped a few months ago. I think I said something about having it completed by the end of October or November, and clearly we're now into December. Nonetheless, I stand by the small direction-change choices we made that caused this delay, which I'll explain a bit further into this post. At any rate, those who have been paying attention will note that we've implemented a number of the major "bullet points" from the "RFC" link above: system/nation defenses, standing-loss forgiveness, and shortly.. specialized Newbie sectors. All three of these areas still require some further tweaking, and we've had a lot of great feedback on those subjects, but they are all fundamentally working. Once those are all in place, we'll move forward with Serco/Itani mutual-exclusion standing (no more triple-PoS), temp-KoS penalties, and the other discussed areas that are required to completely fix and update our faction standing system with the removal of friendly-fire exclusions. I would guess this progress will be measured in weeks, rather than months, but it may be the new year before it's all actually in place and working properly.

Why This is Taking Longer Than Expected

I know some people have been both disappointed by the lack of completion of these goals, as well as confused by why we chose to spend time on other.. completely unexpected development; so let me recap a little bit of our choices from the last couple of months, and why we made them. For one, we took a bit of a left-turn from Faction-Redux into Economy Changes, and made some pretty major updates which still require some further tweaking and improvement. The choice was made out of a desire to stabilize the game economy as much as possible prior to an influx of new people. By "stabilize" I mean "make less broken" in terms of our tendency towards inflation. There are still areas that need work: re-assessment of item/ore values in the galaxy, pushing more high-value trade routes into grayspace, and other new features that either compliment the existing changes or make some other major ramification more palatable to our trading base. All that aside, however, closing the bulk-trading hole reduced some of our inflation issues and made it possible for us to at least start working towards a more balanced economy; a necessity before we approach the completely supply/demand redux that is planned for early next year.

Aside from this, you've also seen some unexpected additions pop up. All of a sudden we released a 22MB texture update, to improve the high-detail asteroids. I think a lot of people saw this and went "huh?", not because it wasn't welcome to some extent, but simply because it was seen as a much lower priority than the various economic and faction-related work that we had been doing. Another "left-turn out of nowhere". I briefly explained the reasons in a couple of messageboard posts, but for those who didn't see or didn't understand: the new asteroids are related to the Newbie Sectors mentioned as part of the Faction/FF changes above. I am in the process of creating new sectors where newbies will be able to learn about the game in a more relaxed and defensible location than our Nation Capitols; this will become particularly critical with the removal of Friendly Fire limitations.

However, this is also a priority from a business standpoint. We've always started out newbies in Capitols, some of which are reasonably scenic and interesting, but we have needed to maintain strict limits on what we could really put in those sectors, as they're major trading hubs for the galaxy. Of course, our veteran players know there are other locations with interesting "stuff" in them, but newbies often don't make it that far. Thus, as part of this greater "Newbie Sector" redux, we're trying to show off as many of the "cooler" aspects of VO as early as possible, and in a relatively safe environment. Thus, the new asteroid textures. We've always had the high-resolution textures lying around (since 2001, actually, long before they were feasible to use on videocards), waiting for the day when high-memory cards became the norm. That time is essentially here, and since I would be using those asteroids to construct the new sectors, I figured I might as well spend a week throwing them together and putting them in the game. They're art assets we already had, which required a minimum of work to utilize, and would potentially contribute to a good first-impression on new trial users.

Playing into the timing of this choice, is the fact that we have a major game promo happening around the 10th of December, and possibly our first real Game/Event mailing-list usage around the same time. Thus, we expect to potentially have a large influx of newbies, and we would like to do everything that we can to put our "best foot forward" with them. This is why asteroid textures ended up trumping critical gameplay changes like the economy and faction system.. it isn't that we think textures are more important, it's just the way a series of events and opportunities happened to fall into place. For instance, with the new textures we would have to roll new "full install" versions of the game, which then have to be posted to our mirrors and seeded on our torrents; things that we would prefer to have in place well in advance of the newbie influx. We juggle these kinds of priorities based on the best risk/reward likelihood, keeping our schedule flexible enough to take advantage of possible opportunities. Now that this development is out of the way, you'll see us returning to the economic tweaks, forward-looking faction changes, and potentially some other gameplay updates (Border Skirmish, etc) that are sorely needed.

Fun with Server Capacity

There have been some complaints of "lag" related issues and other problems that may or may not be related to server capacity (usually they aren't, but it's possible). Before these complaints ever surfaced, we had been working on increasing capacity for the above-mentioned newbie influx. Unfortunately, this process did not go off without a few hiccups, and we did have a couple of hours of downtime over the last month. Sorry about that, but on the upside, we fixed some scalability / resiliency issues that came to light, and the game ended up being better for it. Later this week, we'll be bringing online another two single-core cluster servers, and within another couple of weeks, another pair of dual-core machines (which may inaugurate a new specialized "high-intensity" cluster server group, which exclusively handles Border Skirmish and other locales where server-heavy gameplay is expected).

The issues that occurred last Weds and Thurs (Thanksgiving, for those in the US) were actually related to our attempt to increase capacity on Weds, and a series of interesting unforeseen problems that cropped up. We had them sorted out by late Thurs, but there were some problems in between. These problems were simply a natural byproduct of the fact that we have done a tremendous amount of server development since the last time we changed our server capacity, so a few bugs had cropped up as part of new-development. This goes with the territory. Anyway, just a heads-up that we are building out more capacity for the game, as well as cleaning up / fixing other problems we're running across, all of which will hopefully add up to another four years of our being one of the most stable continuously-running MMOs out there.

Border Skirmish, Deneb wars, Universe Redux

I talked about the Universe Redux thing a couple of times since summer, and that is still coming. It was delayed by some of our Faction/Economy work, as well as the back-end problems that cropped up here and there. You can (still) expect Deneb to be reworked as essentially a grayspace conquest system, a battleground between the Itani and Serco. Border Skirmish will expand to cover the entire system, with multiple skirmishes potentially taking place at once, as well as different "scales" of skirmish, allowing varied gameplay types as well as accessibility to people on slower computers (who can't really play in the Big Battles). Also, expect more Fog. Eventually this "dynamic warfare" concept will be applied more broadly to the rest of the game, with minor factions in grayspace (Corporations) potentially going to war with one another from time to time, and offering related Letters of Marque for privateering of the opposing group. Don't expect all of this immediately, but that is the larger "Warfare" goal, which we'll hopefully be hitting before the first half of 2009.

The greater "redux" will happen once Deneb is reworked and I'm relatively happy with how the whole universe-generation process is going. The newer art assets (like the high-detail asteroids) will be used prominently, and you can expect some brand-new assets (giant ice) as well as some re-working of existing assets (ice shaders, textures, models).

Relating more specifically to Border Skirmish and the expanding "Dynamic Warfare" concept, we also did some tweaking of the capships recently to make them much more controllable. This is good, both in the immediate-term for the AI, as well as down the road for players. Even strictly limited to the AI, we expect that with some further code fiddling we should be able to reduce the server impact of major battles, by keeping some distance between the complex capships and reducing their server-side collisions.

The Future and the Big Picture

As many of our veterans know, we use a Trac system internally for development tickets, milestones and so on. I've been claiming to make it public since early 2007, which has become somewhat embarrassing. That being said, I am way too overloaded with actual immediate development work to worry too much about it right now. However, at the very least I will be posting some of our major milestone goals and bullet points in the not-too-distant future. This includes Version 1.9.0 within the next month or two (not sure if it'll make it before the end of the year, we'll see), and version 2.0.0 next year.

Vendetta Online 2.0 is basically going to be the "Sequel" to original VO, in terms of features and polish. Although, strictly speaking, it will really be much closer to what we originally intended VO to be, from the very beginning, but never had the time or funding to complete. This is where all my blathering about Kourier/Erlang and massive NPC AI and other lengthy back-end development will really show its worth. You'll see bits in pieces of this in the much nearer future, as we start to expand Dynamic Warfare and so on, but there's a much "bigger picture" that is coming down the road.

Hopefully a display of some of the major feature definitions and bullet points, and target milestone dates, will help people get a clearer picture of where we're headed.. and when. We will also be opening up the Trac system, so you'll be able to see when tickets are created and the like, but I'm not making any more promises about that.. hopefully it'll show up in the next couple of months, but if not, then I needed to spend the time on the game for some immediate reason.

Immediate Bits and Pieces

On a final note, you will see some other bits appearing shortly, such as additional missions and potentially some new addons, variants, and minor content drops. We haven't had a chance to do much of this for the last couple of months, but we will do some during December.

That's all I have for now, please let us know if you see any problems in the game, and keep posting to Suggestions and the other forums. The feedback on the relatively-recent changes (Economy, etc) is welcome, and there are several Suggestions threads in which I have major interest, but just didn't have a chance to respond. So, please keep that feedback coming, you'll definitely see some of it manifesting in the game before the month is out.

Additionally, please be kind to any newbies who arrive during the December promos. We're fortunate to have one of the best communities of any game, and hopefully you're all willing to show that to a few new people :). Happy Holidays, everyone.

John "Incarnate" Bergman
Guild Software, Inc.