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Vendetta Online 1.8.202

VO 1.8.201-202 include:

- Added joystick support for Android 3.1 and above.
- Added PLUGINS_LOADED plugin lua event that triggers after all
plugins are loaded.
- Fixed another bug with changing channels in Voice Chat.
- Added experimental Voice Chat for Android version.
- Added Heyzap Check in button to Android Updater.
- Fixed problems with switching between group and guild voice chat.
- Fixed problems with Border Skirmish.

On the face of it, this may not seem like that significant of a release. However, a few of the things added over the past week have some meaningful ramifications:

Joysticks for Android - The biggest complaint about playing VO on Android mobile devices is usually the control mechanics, especially when one attempts combat. Our touch interfaces will always be improving and evolving, but there's only so much that one can do with a touchscreen: it gives no tactile feedback (you don't "know" you've pressed the button by feeling it depress downward.. haptic shakes and things are not the same), and it gives no positional feedback (you don't know that your thumb is in the right place by the "feel" of the button). The custom interface on the Xperia PLAY does a little better in this regard, and keyboard-mode has always worked pretty well (Asus Transformer tablets, etc). But for the average phone or tablet owner, there have been limited options for good gameplay control.

Hopefully, joystick support will be a solid step towards improving that situation. General support for joysticks and gamepads was added in Honeycomb 3.1, only available to tablets, and unfortunately was only added for java-based Android "activities" (we prefer to use "native" activities, also something added in Gingerbread and Honeycomb, for potentially improved performance and reduced memory usage). So in order to support joysticks in the meantime, we had to come up with a way of spawning a java-based version of the game in cases where joysticks are desired. As of this release, you can plug in a joystick, then run the game. It will detect the presence of the joystick and offer you the option of running a java-based activity that will support the controller.

We've tested this with an Xbox 360 controller, an older Logitech wired-USB gamepad, as well as a flight stick and some other devices. We'll also eventually test it with the Logitech F710 wireless joystick. You still have to manually define and configure the joystick, setting up the axes and buttons and so forth, and use our not-super-intuitive joystick interface (we'll improve on that at some point), but it should work. We welcome feedback.

Now it is notable that joystick support is only present on Honeycomb 3.1 or better. Honeycomb is a tablet-only OS, and joysticks are not supported on Gingerbread (2.3), the more common phone OS. So for phones, anyone on less than the very recently released Ice Cream Sandwich 4.0 (Galaxy Nexus) will be unable to use a joystick or a gamepad for the time being. As phones are upgraded to Ice Cream Sandwich, joystick support will be propagated out to more of the devices that need them. Also, you may need some sort of micro-USB-to-USB adapter to physically plug a joystick in to most of these devices. There are also bluetooth joysticks in development; we've heard some of the prototypes are working well, but we haven't personally used any yet.

Integrated Voice Chat for Android - This is still pretty high on the "testing" curve, and we've also juggling a few issues on the voice chat server (we made some big updates lately), so don't expect this to be 100%. However, we do have voice chat support in Android now. People will immediately ask things like "does it work with my bluetooth headset", etc. I honestly don't know. Things are still very early, we're mostly focused on "does it.. work." If you would like to play around with the released version, feel free. Be aware that voicechat can use significant bandwidth, far more than the game itself, so either play from Wifi or be sure you have some kind of unlimited data plan.

Where is all of this Going? - The goal is to eventually see phone-based devices as equal citizens in their ability to play Vendetta Online. Mobile support was always approached with the idea of the "best playability that we could manage", and the Android version has met (our) expectations of that. To date, it has been a great platform for checking in on the game while mobile, or doing some mining or lower-intensity missions. It has not been the best platform for involved combat, or especially PvP (arguably the strongsuit of our game). Hopefully joystick support will eventually help close the gap, and Voice Chat will add more equality to bigger game experiences (Border Skirmish, Guild activities, etc).

The end-run is to be able to really play the game no matter where you are. This could be sitting in a hotel room, with your phone hooked to the TV via HDMI (wireless HDMI is also coming), with a wireless mobile joystick hooked to your device. Or it could be with a tablet propped up on a table outside somewhere, and a wireless controller. Or it could be using a phone with one of those nifty little micro-projectors (which have been built into certain phones) to let you play the game on a "bigscreen" with any nearby wall. These cases are all basically possible now.

We want Gameplay Changes! - A fairly significant amount of our userbase is not super overjoyed by Android-exclusive changes, especially when they come (sometimes) at the expense of gameplay changes. We understand this. Please appreciate that the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas is happening in January, this is a big deal for the electronics world, and can yield cool opportunities if we are able to showcase the game. For instance, CES earlier this year directly resulted in our presence in Verizon's Xoom TV launch ad. All that said, there will be more (and more significant) gameplay changes coming. As I said in-game the other day, fixing the faction system is currently slated as my Next Big Project. I'll post some reflections on the changes in the near future.

PLUGINS_LOADED event - This is something we added at the behest of those players who choose to also develop Lua-based plugins for the game (which, as of recently, also work on Android). This feature will help them create libraries of functionality, so one plugin can depend on others, rather than everyone having to re-invent the wheel. We will continue to expand and improve on the plugin system when we can (this was an easy change).

HeyZap for Android - HeyZap is a San Francisco based startup that maintains a kind of social network for mobile gaming. This makes it pretty easy to check in with friends and say that you're playing such-and-such a game, which is particularly beneficial for online and multi-player titles. It was an easy addition for us, and seems to have minimal annoyance for those who don't want to use it, so we thought it was worthwhile. The first time you run it without the HeyZap app being installed, you will see a message in the notification area about the benefits of HeyZap, but only the one time. You will not be bothered by it again, if it isn't your style, simply ignore the icon on the game launcher.

That's all for now, have a great weekend everyone!