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Making forward progress.

Another short heads-up about what we're doing (no this is not an April Fools post, I happened to have time to write an update today).

We spent about a month working to improve server-side performance and scalability, related to Border Skirmish and other large-scale battles (Hive Skirmish, etc). By and large, we succeeded, although there has still been some fallout of new bugs and issues that have cropped up as a result of the changes (NPCs flying through asteroids occasionally, etc).

This week, we've started to get back to doing non-optimization work, with the general idea of being back on track for the FF/Faction/Economy changes in the near term, along with the various other stuff we had been working before the unplanned "debugging / optimization period". In the meantime, there have been a lot of things that have cropped up, which fell by the wayside due to lack of development resources; so we're also spending a certain amount of time cleaning up some Billing interface stuff, and other areas.

Aside from this, there are some other issues that require addressing before we should move forward with expanding Border Skirmish into first-generation "Dynamic Warfare", which was our project focus about a month ago. We've been "temporarily" running the Border Skirmish sector in Deneb persistently on a unique server, to allow us to do performance analysis without other sectors running on the same machine and clouding our results. Now that we're fairly confident in the performance improvements, we want to move back to distributing the sectors dynamically based on cluster-server load. This is particularly important with the "expanded" Skirmish concept, since there may be several skirmishes happening simultaneously in different sectors. At the same time, however, we don't want the CPU-intensive skirmish sectors to impact other relatively-lightweight-but-critical sectors, such as the capitols or the newbie sectors. We've long planned to subdivide our server cluster distribution: "high expected CPU usage" sectors running off of one cluster, while "regular" sectors run off of others. This keeps the low-intensity and high-intensity sectors from running on the same machines at the same time, and makes the game better for everyone. We hammered out a design for the improved system on Monday, and work has begun this week. Hopefully this'll be in place by next week some time, and we can start to expand on Border Skirmish without impinging on other areas of the game.

Work on the economy is also coming along, mostly in the form of doing some analysis of trade routes, and building some tools to watch what happens. I still fully intend to push a lot more traffic into gray; I know that hasn't really happened yet, but that's still what we're working towards.

We dropped Friendly Fire restrictions, first in Odia/Sedina/Bractus, and then throughout Grayspace, and the changes have been very well received. We will be continuing to move forward on the FF/Faction changes laid out long ago, with the next big thing being the disentanging of many of our weird faction system rules, and how they interact with the client Radar. Fixing strange stuff like radar coloration based on who is the "enemy" of the local faction, instead of the "enemy" of the actual player. Plus a lot of other changes, mentioned in the associated RFC thread. We will be continuing to remove FF restrictions, as well. I may leave them in place in the starting newbie sectors, or around Capitol stations, but I am aiming to remove them as much as possible.

On the "longer-term" view, I am starting to rework some of our milestones to take into account the recent optimization work, and I expect to post a 1.9.0 bulletpoint list before long. This will probably go up here, as well as going out to the usual news sites. Whenever I'm getting a chance, I'm re-organizing our high-level goals with an eye towards this, a 2.0 bulletpoint list, and a public Trac system (no, I'm not promising a timeframe on that last one). Of course, this takes time away from my day-to-day work.. if only project management / design was my job, instead I have like fifty jobs to juggle. Anyway, end result being, I think we'll be seeing 1.9 in the near term, as well as some more information about The Plan.

On the short-term front, I don't want to over-promise anything, but if we're lucky we may see: 1) Expanded Border Skirmish, 2) Most of the FF/Faction fixes, and 3) some significant economy/trade-route changes, before the end of April. No, that isn't an April fools thing, and I'd say it's more likely that we'll do two out of three, but it's possible that we'll get to all of them. It really depends on what bugs and nastiness happens along the way. For instance, Michael has been working on some low-key changes to handling of groups in Skirmishes (so they don't automatically break up at the end, and people can continue chatting, etc), and today discovered a nasty bug that actually causes the game server to exit. These sorts of things happen, you spend time working on X, and suddenly discover Y orthogonal nasty bug.

So, let's keep our fingers crossed and hope things go smoothly over the next couple of weeks. We'd really like to get some of this stuff out of the way, so we can look at really expanding gameplay in earnest. Building and optimizing "engines" is all very well and good, but it doesn't really get interesting until you start to do something with it, and that's the bit I think we're all looking forward to.

Take care all, thanks for your patience and support.