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Constellation Hulk in Latos D-14

Major Engine Updates

We've spent a lot of time this year on a major Engine Overhaul, and it's time we started telling you why, and a little of what we have planned.

We intend to release a major game expansion in 2019, and this includes goals for gameplay, as well as far higher graphical fidelity than has been our prior standard. In many cases, the graphics and the content go hand-in-hand. For instance:

  • Expect major changes to the layout and content of the galaxy, and entirely new types of hazards. Without going into too much detail, some of these hazards will probably have some interesting new visuals to go with them, and will have ramifications for all types of gameplay: pirates, traders, miners, territorial conquest, and more.

  • This includes a plan to massively increase the density of sectors, in terms of asteroid fields and debris. This also bears on a lot of gameplay, from exploration to mineral prospecting and conquest of sectors.

At the same time, we're pushing our game universe to be more dynamically interactive, so we're aiming to make many of these new debris react realistically to physics impacts. It remains to be seen exactly how these features will be made available, or with what limitations; but it raises some interesting possibilities, like:

  • Players "re-arranging" the asteroids in a sector to different locations, to make it more defensible, or serve some other purpose.

  • Packing the innards of an abandoned capital ship "hulk" with small chunks of debris, while concealing a hidden mine, creating an even more stealthy and devastating weapon.

This is unusual stuff for a persistent-world MMORPG, in part because it's technically complex and challenging to scale. Lots of physics, lots of collision detection, lots of uncertainty about how many people will try playing in one place at the same time.

Understand, this is not the full extent of the features we have planned, but only a couple of examples, to briefly clarify why we've put so much time into the engine technology itself..

Vulkan Logo

New Game Renderer

Vulkan is a next-generation hardware graphics standard, the successor to the OpenGL family. It's an open, cross-platform standard, which we have chosen to use as the basis for our in-house renderer technology, moving forward.

Vulkan is a "low-level" standard, making it "close to the metal", giving a lot of power to developers to find the best options for performance. This is perfect for a custom engine like ours, and should make for better scalability across systems with many cores, and even multiple GPUs.

This will be very helpful with our next-generation game scenery and content. Plus, a single cross-platform standard is also easier to maintain: instead of supporting DirectX, OpenGL and OpenGL ES on various different platforms, we can instead target Vulkan almost everywhere.

We've had an experimental Vulkan renderer internally since the beginning of 2018, but we recently shipped it into production as an optional "beta" renderer for the Windows platform. Other platforms will follow, as the renderer is improved.

Anyone on the Windows client can optionally select the Vulkan renderer, if they have a Vulkan-compliant GPU, which includes most recent offerings from NVIDIA, Intel and AMD. We recommend getting the very latest drivers, as Vulkan driver development is still quite active. Please post any issues to our Bugs Forum.

This area of the engine is still heavily in development, so don't expect a performance difference yet. In the long run, though, people on framerate-critical devices like the new Oculus Quest VR device could see considerable improvements from our Vulkan renderer.

We will continue to support older standards, for people using older hardware, for a long time to come. However, much as we've done before when we phase out older renderers, the non-Vulkan options will eventually be "frozen" in feature support, and all future development will go into Vulkan.

AMD Threadripper 2

Multi-Core Architecture

While the renderer performance is very important in delivering the final visuals, equally important is the rest of the game engine, which has to "feed" the renderer, and the ability of that engine to scale to systems with many cores.

Everywhere from 8-core phones to 32-core desktops, there's a lot of computing power to be utilized; and a lot of potential for improving game performance, while delivering better fidelity and content.

However, throughout the game industry, it's always been a big challenge to get a game engine to scale well across a larger number of cores. Our engine has been strongly multi-threaded for many years, but our next-gen changes are shaping up to be a big improvement.

Our new architecture is now running the game about twice as fast, on some hardware, compared to the beginning of the year (and that's not counting any improvements from Vulkan). The performance benefit can vary based on the type of system and scene in use, but any machine with a faster GPU than CPU is likely to see big bump, which includes mobile. Systems with slow GPUs and fast CPUs do see improvements as well, just not quite as large.

Big Picture

All these changes, taken together have the potential to substantially enhance mobile, desktop and VR, allowing us to deliver more content and higher fidelity on existing hardware.

It also has big ramifications for the server, which shares much of the same low-level codebase; these same changes that enhance the end-player's performance, can also allow the scalability of sectors to be significantly improved.

Progressive Release

Again, these engine changes are still in development, and we've only just begun to see some tentative releases onto Windows. Windows is one of the easier platforms for us to debug and patch quickly, so we're using it as our "beta" testbed, but once we're confident in the changes, you can expect to see them across all game clients.

Other Recent Updates

There have been a lot of updates, this is only a few highlights:

  • Capship powercells are now "classed" by ship-type, Trident powercells only usable on Tridents, etc.
  • Goliath powercell reduced to 55 grid power, balancing prior changes in Cap Swarms, etc.
  • Hive Queen speed enhanced, additional PCB drain attacks in Stronghold sectors.
  • Enhanced numerical configuration of joystick axes and dead zones.
  • Added 200ms delay to auto-fire, equating it to average human reaction time.
  • Buddy invites persist across logins, and may be responded to when the sender is offline.
  • Fixed Android-based joystick configuration saving bug.
  • Latos D-14 is now more dangerous. And interesting.
  • Further mitigation of spy bots. If you want to idle in the game for long periods of time, pick a single station and dock there.
  • Many, many bug-fixes and tweaks.

M+Dev Game Conference

Midwestern game developers are coming together next week, for the upcoming M+Dev Conference in Madison Wisconsin (October 19th). If you're in the area, and interested in game development, consider attending? You might even see some of the Vendetta Online developers wandering around..

Download the Game

You can install the game client for Android, iPhone and iPad, Samsung GearVR and Oculus Go, Google Daydream VR, as well as find the game on the Mac Store. Or, you can directly download the game installation for Windows, Mac, and Linux.

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