MAY 11TH UPDATE - DEAD MATTER

Hey there folks, it’s that time again to talk about what’s been going on over the course of the last week. This update’ll be a little different from past ones, in that we’re taking some time to (finally,) start showing and telling a bit about the work we’ve been doing on our worldspace, and will be mostly focusing on a single aspect of what we’ve had on the go over the last while. With that being the case, why don’t we skip the preamble in get right into it?

GETTING RIGHT INTO IT

Over the last couple of months while we’ve been at work on the push for 0.7.0, we’ve been spending a lot of time looking at our old LD workflow. Reviewing the world we had and the feedback our community had given, we did some deep soul searching and took some serious time to consider the shortcomings the game world had, seek out the flaws in our world design, and put a great deal of consideration into the problems with our overall art direction.

Needless to say, there were more than a few issues we identified.

These issues have been pretty varied, and we’d be here all week covering them all and laying out how we’re fixing them. Everything from level placement contributing directly to hitching as their contents were loaded in and out, a lack of clear intent behind some locations, the very terrain of our world being laid out in a manner that made for poor flow and forcing locations to be far too close together, and in some cases even managing to make some locations bigger in Dead Matter than they were in their real-world equivalent location, these problems all ultimately made performance worse and contributed to a world that was less than exciting to explore.

After reviewing all of this, we found ourselves with a single clear solution to the problem - we needed to revisit the worldspace as a whole, and build a new, better workflow for creating environments in it. And beyond all that, everything needed to be worked over with a fine-toothed comb to ensure we didn’t fall prey to the same mistakes that we made in the first place.

As the coding team worked to audit our codebase and work out what was causing issues there, our LD and art teams have been working on this task of revisiting how our world is built. While we still have a very long way to go before we reach 0.7.0’s goal of catching back up with the old worldspace, we’re now in a place where we’re ready to begin offering a first tiny preview of what’s in store for when 0.7.0 goes out to our backers. Before we get to the first picture, we do need to make it very explicit that everything shown here is a work in progress, and it will change prior to the release of 0.7.0 - we simply find ourselves in a place where we can begin to show bits of our worldspace, and want to begin opening things up with our community for discussion.

Now, with that out of the way, let’s take a look at the first preview of this update post:

The Bow Valley

For those of you who are more intimately familiar with the state of Dead Matter’s worldspace in 0.6.0, you likely have noticed a few differences between this version of the Bow Valley, and the older version found in the last Closed Alpha release. First and foremost, this version of the Bow Valley is far larger than the version we had previously. While we’re sure that there may be some concerns in regard to how this may impact performance, this change actually serves to help improve performance. Previously on our CA map, the Bow Valley’s topography was such that it caused the majority of the locations there to be packed together in an incredibly dense manner. While this served to make the mountains lining the valley feel very mountainous and imposing, ultimately the issue was that this provided little functional terrain for larger towns and settlements to be placed without jamming them all together at the very bottom of the valley. This, in turn, caused major issues with level streaming - players were frequently stuck loading levels in and out, which caused some serious issues with hitching.

By shifting over to this map, we’re both more able to provide a far more consistent framerate for players, as well as creating a map that better represents the scale and feeling of the real-world Bow Valley.

Along with that, you have likely also noticed the new lighting solution we’re using for our sun/sky - this is our endpoint after a lot of trial and error on the part of our art and code departments. We explored a number of various solutions, and finally narrowed it down to this one. While this is not the final state our sky lighting will likely be in when 0.7.0 goes out to our community, even now it’s in a very attractive place compared to where it once was.

There are of course changes to the foliage as well, however before we get into that we should likely move on to the second half of today’s world preview first.

This second  preview requires a bit of context first - the location we’re showing next is the Bowed Branches Campgrounds, a campsite found near Dead Man’s Flats. This is a very mundane location, and is one we chose deliberately for this mini-showcase because of how unimportant it is as far as locations in the world go - we’d like to provide a less ‘fancy’ look at some of the less important locations showing up in Dead Matter CA 0.7.0, so this seemed like a great candidate.

Now, odds are that even if you’re taking part in the Closed Alpha, you may not know which specific location we’re talking about, so for the sake of clarity, here’s a look at the campgrounds as they exist in 0.6.0:

Before…

This is a nice little campground with a handful of rental cabins. It’s nothing too special or exciting, but also has a number of flaws we wanted to address. Having started the process of attacking those flaws, lets take a look at a similar angle from the reworked version of the Bowed Branches Campground before we start to talk specifics:

…and after.

We say similar because, well, a lot has changed here. Keeping in mind that this preview is still in a very early state, and there’s still plenty to be done on the area, there’s quite a bit going on here we’d like to talk about.

While the original iteration of this location was totally fine as far as campgrounds go, to us it quite clearly embodied a number of the issues our old worldspace had, and as such serves a pretty good example of the kind of considerations we’re making in the realm of level design for 0.7.0.

Firstly, there’s the problem of location. The old version of this campground is over half a kilometer away from Dead Man’s Flats. This is something of an issue, since the real-world inspiration for this campground is in the town proper. This was mostly a side-effect of the issues we mentioned above with our world’s topography causing all of the settlements to be compressed into a small portion of playable space. Along with the obvious issue of things needing to be crushed down to fit into the reduced space, there’s also the problem of our locations needing to be ‘squeezed’ outwards along the length of the valley. As a result, the original campground ended up far away from Dead Man’s Flats, and ended up feeling like a loose bit of world design that wasn’t rooted to anything else. As a result this location ended up feeling very disjointed and out of place, and had a negative impact on performance (as we talked about above.)

Beyond this, there’s the issue of the location’s overall design. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with a campground of rental cabins, this isn’t really the kind of location we were aiming to portray in this area. The real-world inspiration for our campground is one made up of a series of rental lots. While cabins can make for a really neat location, and there’s not many things cooler than claiming your own cabin up in the mountains, for a place like Dead Man’s Flats this doesn’t make a ton of sense logically, and detracts from the gameplay flow we intend for this area.

One of the big things we’re focusing on for 0.7.0 and the revamp of our world is ensuring that the narrative of the world is better felt in our environments. Part of this is, of course, ensuring that locations have a place within the metanarrative of our setting. Dead Man’s Flats plays a pretty important role in the events that occur in the 2 weeks prior to the game’s start, so even minor locations need to feel grounded in this. This campground is no different, and Bowed Branches has an important role to play in this narrative. Beyond this, however, is addressing a pretty critical issue that many members of our CA test community have mentioned time and time again:

The world just doesn’t really feel all that convincingly like everything fell to pieces over the weeks preceding the game.

Even in this early state (a number of assets don’t yet have the necessary code migrated over to support their functionality,) you can see the building blocks for our solution to this problem in this location. This also addresses an issue that we ourselves have had with the previous iteration of our world - NERA, despite being a pivotal group in that two week period, had little real presence in our game world. Due to a number of failures of design, NERA’s presence in the game world was lacking, and they didn’t feel like they had much of a presence in the events leading up to the start of the game. This is completely at-odds with the narrative we had built for the game, so our aim has been to rectify this issue, and Bowed Branches is part of this course correction. Needless to say, the men and women in orange will have a far greater impact on the game world going forward.

Now, we mentioned foliage earlier. As we’ve touched upon in previous updates, the foliage we were using in our worldspace previously had many issues. We had prepped this foliage in the runup to 0.6.0, and our plan of action had been to integrate it so that we could begin to phase out the problem-assets we had in place before. However, as planning for 0.7.0 evolved and expanded, it became increasingly clear to us that it would be something of a waste of time for us to expend the effort on integrating this foliage and make the adjustments to our other environmental assets as necessary to ensure that everything was copacetic in our world. However, now that we’re working on the worldspace revamp and have hit a stride with it, we’re finally able to begin filtering in these new assets. There’s still quite a few tweaks to be made to them, but as a jumping-off point these are a major step forward from what we had been using in the past.

There’s still a lot of work to be done on Bowed Branches, and we suspect it won’t be the last time you’ll be seeing it in an update, however we really wanted to take the time now that we’re ready to and begin showing some early looks at our worldspace. In future updates, we’ll continue to talk about the work on our worldspace and illustrate them in image form now that we’re ready to, and we’re really glad we can begin to properly show what our team has been putting in place over the last few months.

WRAPPING UP

We know that compared to previous updates this one has been a touch more single minded in its direction, however we really wanted to offer this information without detracting from it in any way. Future updates will still contain information about what’s going on in the other departments, and we have some cool things to talk about for next week, courtesy of our programming team. We’re excited to delve into that, and it should offer up some really interesting information about what we’re moving forward with as our programmers can begin to pivot towards more visually interesting tasks. Until then, as always, thank you for your support, and stay tuned for next week’s update.

-The Team at QIS