Insurgency: Sandstorm – State of Production #3
October 29, 2019
My name is Derek, and I am New World Interactive’s Head of Production in charge of scheduling and scoping on the team, here to give you an update on what’s been happening in the past month.It’s been a busy month here at New World Interactive. We’ve continued to immigrate more members of our design and programming teams in to Canada. Our efforts at ramping up have continued full speed, and our team is starting to take on some scalable structure as we quickly move towards 2020. In response to community feedback, we made some significant adjustments to our internal roadmap, as well as a decision pertaining to publicly posting our roadmap. Additionally, I’m going to be clarifying our stance on competitive, as it seems like our video announcement was misunderstood. Let’s dive right in to this next State of Production.
Key Points of State of Production #3
- Delaying our 2019 Roadmap goals and removing them from the Steam Store Page as we have refocused development on optimization and console release.
- Improving playlist system by removing player population count from playlist, allowing multiple playlists to be selected, manual team switching, auto team balance, and a “pre-match” Team Deathmatch mode where players waiting to queue into Versus or Competitive matches can play TDM against other players also in queues while they wait.
- Continuing competitive community outreach as stated in our last video in publicly joinable VoIP meetings in our official Discord.
- New Art Producer and Associate Producer have been hired; offer has been extended to a prospective Head of Marketing to follow.
- Analyzing lower performing maps Refinery, Outskirts, Summit, and Precinct as part of our initial optimization pass.
- Creating for modders an alpha build of our level editor, and the ability to auto-download custom maps upon connecting to a server.
Removal of the Roadmap from Our Store Page
I’m anticipating some anxiety/concerns over our decision to remove our roadmap from the store page, so I want to try and get ahead of that. “Why is New World Interactive removing the roadmap?” It’s a fairly simple answer: our plans have changed. Given the immense amount of feedback we’ve received about the needs to optimize, the development impacts associated with clearing TRC/co-dev of the console version of the game, and our efforts towards providing mod support for our players, we have had to make some adjustments in order to ensure we can achieve all of the things that the community is looking for. Given how much content we provided throughout 2019 already for free, including 3 new maps, 10 new weapons, 3 new game modes, limited time “mutated” game modes, and dozens of new cosmetics, we felt it made the most sense to focus on getting our pre-existing content into a better state as opposed to focusing on the introduction of even more content. Let me address the major concerns that are likely to bubble up;
- We’ve delayed night maps and associated equipment until next year. Given what a large undertaking this is (Multiple types of night vision goggles, night vision scopes, IR lasers, night maps themselves, lighting, AI overhauls, etc.) we decided it would be better to give these features more time in the oven than to release them preemptively. We’ll still be releasing one of the night maps for our Halloween event, so you’ll get a teaser of where we’re headed there!
- While not in our Roadmap, we have heard feedback and begun working on an AI overhaul which unfortunately must be delayed until next year as well. In order to best-service our cooperative modes, as well as our night maps, we’re working on reducing inconsistencies within our AI’s behavior trees. However, this is a time consuming process, and given how loaded our sprints are between now and the end of the year, we didn’t feel there was time to complete this task in its entirety at the level we desired.
As we get closer to completing TRC, which is one of our biggest challenges (as we’ve never done a console release before as a studio) we’re hoping we’ll be able to put up a better, more accurate roadmap for 2020. At this time, however, things are shifting around on a per-need basis of our console co-dev partner and community feedback.
Regarding the future of the Playlist system
We understand that a lot of people responded negatively to our introduction of the playlist system in 1.4. It’s important to note that the main design motivations for introducing the system were to (a) keep players contained in a single continuous game experience of their preference without being arbitrarily matched across multiple dissimilar game modes. The idea was that players would stick together in a server with map voting in between matches, and that servers would not need to be generated, taken down, and repopulated over and over (b) create a more intuitive and visually appealing way for new players to learn about and select which game modes to play (c) to allow for the use of limited time playlists leveraging the new mutator system and, in the future, community made mods.
We acknowledge there have been unintended consequences of the addition of this system. It’s important to us that we achieve the design intentions above, but also address the shortfalls of the system since its debut. We know that the quick-fixes we’ve done since the system was released have not been ideal, so instead of applying band-aid solutions to get better player distribution results, we are now in the process of developing a ‘take two’ on the system which we will unveil when ready. Some of the changes we are working on include the following:
- No longer seeing the amount of players playing each playlist, but instead letting people know an approximate queue time once they’ve started queueing so that if it’s longer than average players have the option to back out.
- The ability to select multiple playlists to potentially queue into rather than only one. While this may not prove to be immediately handy with our currently available playlists as they are so different in experience, we may consider making further adjustments to which playlists are available in such a way that multiple playlist queueing would be appreciated.
- Solutions for team balance issues, including the ability to change teams manually and an auto team balance feature that triggers if players don’t address team balance on their own. This should help with matches where teams are stuck at being uneven, causing people to leave prematurely and harming playlist population. As well as just being a generally frustrating player experience.
- Allowing players to play in a pre-match Team Deathmatch round while they wait in the queue for a Versus or Competitive playlist match to be formed.
We anticipate that these changes should result in a better distribution of players throughout the different playlists, so there will likely be some adjustments to the available playlists themselves to accompany this change in response to the aversion we’re seeing towards game modes being grouped together. We appreciate your feedback and we hope that these changes clearly demonstrate we are acting on your input. Please keep in mind that these changes and this iterative process takes time. If you have any more input for us, or if you appreciate these changes, by all means please share your feedback and we will continue to work to improve the playlist system.
Regarding Our Competitive Announcement
I’d like to start off by saying that this announcement was my idea. Feel free to direct all hate at me accordingly if you felt neglected, slighted, or trampled as a result.
The purpose of this announcement, however, was not to say that “We are going all in on the competitive scene.”; it was to express our interest in establishing a dialogue with players and communities to get a better understanding of what it would take to develop and grow a competitive environment within our community. At this stage we can’t make any full commitments to improve the competitive experience. We want to be very honest and open about that. However, we do recognize that there are things we might be able to do within our resources and current production plan to improve the health of competitive gameplay. This may include fixes, minor new features, assisting the comp community in running tournaments or events, etc.
As for “Why create a video announcement?” for the formatting, it was a goal of mine to develop a digital messaging presence within the studio. We thought it would be a neat idea to compare the traction and stickiness of the medium from which we messaged, with the hypothesis that our players would respond better to a video dialogue than written blog formats. Moving forward, I’d like to use even more digital messaging in the future; this was merely our first attempt at doing so to get a better idea of what we can do well, where we need to shore up our skills, and to assess our production capabilities when it comes to creating video content in the future. We recognize it wasn’t perfect, and we’re going to experiment with presentation styles a lot in 2020.
I’d also like to speak to the community, especially those who seem to have taken our initiative most personally. Many comments along the lines of:
- “Competitive is dead”
- “NWI let competitive die”
- “This is a slap in the face to those of us who have been advocating for competitive since the game released”
- “We’ve already told you what the game needs before”
We definitely understand why you feel this way. We acknowledge our team has room to improve in regards to how we interface with and support a competitive ecosystem. The primary reason for this absence of proper attention to competitive is because post-release we prioritized other content that satisfied the broader playerbase. That includes optimization, weapons, levels, polish, general improvements, etc. There was a lot we wanted to do to fix up and flesh out the game. However, these changes take time, and we are currently in the process of determining both what those changes are and if we have the resources to do them. Some of our efforts at establishing a feedback loop, while small in nature, include:
- Improving our community feedback loop via centralized documentation
- Establishing an active conversation and a dialogue with players who have an interest in helping us to improve our competitive scene and overall gameplay moving forward
- The establishment of a dedicated support manager, who is building us a service desk entirely from scratch via Freshdesk as opposed to HappyFox
- Chatting with the leaders of various community leagues and organizations to identify opportunities for collaboration and intra-league events in the future
These are not excuses; this is the way we are moving forward. We are HAPPY to have a dialogue with players who want to help us continue to develop and grow this game. We had over 200 people show up to our first day of open dialogue, which was exciting and rewarding for all of us here at New World Interactive. We recently conducted 4 separate sessions for competitive feedback (2 for the North America region, and 2 for the EU region) which we’ll be analyzing and processing over the next few weeks. We’re hoping to conduct more of these focused discussion sessions in the future, but for the time being, we have hundreds of feedback items to measure and parse.
What was the studio up to for the last month?
Continuing the format from the prior SoP, I’m going to break it down by a few key talking points.
The last month represented a very big and exciting milestone for me personally. We carried out dozens of interviews, and we were able to find some exceptional candidates for a few of our most-needed positions. The Production team is now nearly fully fleshed out. The Production team is responsible for scheduling, scoping, managing and cutting features, and identifying quality concerns for deliverables that make it into the live game; with the expansion of this team, we’ll have significantly more eyes focused on all aspects of development. Once on-boarded, we should be able to hit projected milestones with greater consistency and quality, in turn establishing a newfound trust in what we promise and what we are able to deliver. We now have a dedicated Art Producer, as well as a new general Associate Producer starting with us on November 1st. This should help our efforts at optimizing the game, as well as ensuring we are more organized and on-top of our day-to-day on a company-wide basis. We’ve hired a new additional programmer, who specializes in gameplay programming and the creation of tools for our programming team. We’re closing in on our Head of Marketing, and expect to announce their hire within the next month.
- Art Audit + Optimization
Our Art Director has now commenced an audit on 4 levels within our game. These 4 maps are Refinery, Outskirts, Summit, and Precinct. These maps were selected because they were our worst-offenders from the standpoint of performance, memory usage and navigation (e.g. collision bugs). This audit will be focused on flow, performance, and usability. Given the size of our team, as well as the size of the tasks that lie before us, we’re approaching it from the angle that we’ll tackle it in increments as opposed to all at once. These levels will be targeted by both the art team (asset review, LOD texture distancing, pop-ins, level-tailoring, lighting optimization) as well as our internal QA team (collision passes, “soft spot” passes, windows/ledges passes, restricted area review, etc) to focus on both quality of life changes as well as usability testing. This audit will be carried out between now and December, 2019.
- Porting Progress
We’ve continued supporting our co-dev partner, Black Tower, with the console version of Insurgency: Sandstorm. Our biggest challenge thus far has been reducing memory consumption, as many of our maps are still running at 6GB of memory; this is presently higher than the standard edition console can handle. We’re experimenting with numerous solutions and approaches, and as meaningful milestones develop, we’ll continue to share them via the State of Production updates. These solutions for console optimization will directly correlate with performance gains on the PC version of the games as well.
- Mod Support
In an effort to branch out beyond a singular platform, we’ve adopted a platform-agnostic toolset for modding, and have been working towards rolling out our mod capabilities. Since our publisher is still in the process of finalizing an agreement with the solution provider, we are unable to announce at this time which toolset we’ve decided to go with. Expect an announcement about this very soon! There are 3 main focuses for our first rendition:
- Integration of our platform-agnostic solution for mod uploading and distribution
- An alpha version of the level editor to create and share custom maps
- The ability to connect to a server and automatically download any custom map it is running so you don’t always need to obtain the map manually.
It’s important to note, this is not the full extent of the modding capabilities we have planned, but rather a starting point to build off of. We’re hoping to have this released in an early-access capacity by December of this year, with additional contributions throughout the year to refine support for these features.
Upcoming Hotfix for Live Build
With our last patch, 1.4.2, a few issues slipped past us which we are working on addressing. In particular, there were a few changes we were testing internally which were not meant to be introduced yet in the form they were released. This includes somewhat intense camera animations when sprinting (which can be removed via settings for those interested in a temporary workaround), work in progress increases to player inertia affecting the feeling of movement, and changes to stamina which have it no longer affect recoil or sway. These changes were not meant to be released, and we sincerely apologize for this slip. Admittedly, things are a bit chaotic right now for us with our new location, onboarding of new team members and our console co-development. This is not reflective of the standards we hold ourselves to, and we will do everything we can to ensure this type of thing doesn’t happen again.
We are presently working on a hotfix which we hope to roll out as soon as possible. It will contain the removal of these sprinting camera animations as well as ‘tuning’ of the player inertia and stamina-based sway changes closer to what we intend. These changes are a work in progress, and we are planning to make further tweaks to these mechanics as needed. One thing we are exploring in internal testing right now which we feel some players might appreciate is introducing a new Lissajous curve pattern for weapon sway. This pattern is fixed and more predictable than the current Perlin noise weapon sway pattern, and we’re hoping it addresses feedback we’ve received that sway feels too random and arbitrary.