State of Production #6
March 11, 2020
My name is Derek, and I am the Head of Production at New World Interactive. I hope that the winter season has not been too unbearable for everyone! As we get ready to enter the Spring, it’s time for this month’s SoP! With the 1.6 update around the corner, I can now more concretely detail what to expect in this update.
Key Points of State of Production #6
- New Map: Power Plant
- New Guns: Tavor 7 + ACE 52
- New Cosmetic Items
- CTE Feedback
- Evolving our Communication Strategy: Community Blog Revival!
- Regarding stability issues, crashes, and “ghost bullets”
- Replay and Spectator Improvements
- Dynamic Main Menu + Alert Improvements
New Map: Power Plant
I’ve invited our Level Design Director, Jeroen van Werkhoven, to provide some commentary on how we chose the setting for this map, as well to discuss some detailed aspects related to Power Plant.
“Hello! I’m Jeroen van Werkhoven, the level design director at New World Interactive.” I want to share some more info about our new upcoming map. Power Plant is a fast, action-paced map, designed around CQB principles. There may be an enemy around every corner, which makes this map a lot more intense to play than any of our previous levels. Always have someone watching your back!
For the theme of this map, we wanted to try something different. Early in development, we came up with the idea to try a more green environment. We used reference material from Northern Iraq and Chernobyl, as well as other locations, and turned Power Plant into an abandoned, overgrown industrial site with a giant dam looming over the map, making it visible from almost anywhere. We believe it adds more visual appeal, and the player can use the dam as a beacon to navigate through the map. I’m very proud of everyone on the team who was involved in the creation of Power Plant. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did creating it!”
New Guns: Tavor 7 + ACE 52
We’re adding two new weapons to the game in update 1.6. I thought the community might appreciate hearing more about how we selected the weapons, so I’ve invited Mikee to provide some color commentary on the decision-making process.
“Hey everyone, Michael Tsarouhas (or Mikee) here. I’m the lead game designer on Sandstorm, and want to talk a little bit about the new guns we’re adding in update 1.6: the Tavor 7 for the Security Advisor class and the ACE 52 for the Insurgent Advisor class. These weapons were chosen for a few reasons. For one, both these weapons (or ones very much like them) have popped up in various forum posts and social media alongside other weapon requests. This makes sense because our community surveys have indicated that our players have a high interest in modern weapons, specifically assault rifles. So in this update, we decided to go with newer weapons that look more cutting edge, ones that feel appropriate for a well funded or well experienced Advisor to carry. This is especially true with the Tavor 7, which is a relatively new weapon system that is essentially a TAR-21 chambered in those big ass 7.62x51mm NATO rounds. Both the Tavor 7 and ACE 52 fire fast and fire hard, serving as perfect assault weapons for CQB and firing through thick materials. While both these weapons are technically battle rifles, aesthetically and design-wise they are much like ARs. They serve an important and similar gameplay function as high caliber full-auto rifles. Additionally, we have gotten a lot of feedback about the Security Mk 14 EBR and the Insurgent SVD being too common and too powerful as battle rifles. This makes sense since they’re the only two weapons that are shared between the specialized classes of Advisor and Marksman. Rather than just nerfing them and risk making them less useful for both or either of those two classes, the Tavor 7 and ACE 52 will replace them for Advisors and lean a little more in the assault weapon function. And now, every specialized class (Breacher, Gunner, Advisor, Marksman) has a unique primary selection.”
New Cosmetic Items
Evolving our Communication Strategy: Community Blog Revival!
When I first started the “State of Production” blog, it was in an effort to be more transparent in regard to what we are working on and towards as a company. I ultimately would consider it to have been a tremendous success; it inspired engagement, generated feedback, and helped to shed light on what was happening behind the scenes within New World Interactive. I largely took this on because I felt it was necessary for the company to expand our front-facing communication efforts.
Over the past 9 months, I’ve been fortunate enough to ramp and recruit numerous talented individuals (many of whom I’ve referenced in previous SoP’s). With the evolution of our Community and Communications team, I believe that the time has arrived for me to hand off the vast majority of our front-facing communication responsibilities to the face, heart, and soul of our game; our Community Manager, DaraDef! While I’ll still draft a SoP near major releases, there will be substantially more updates relating to the game in the Community blog.
Dara has been instrumental in driving the growth and evolution of the way our company interfaces with our community. She is presently conducting live streams alongside Mikee, and playing with the community regularly. She is drafting and creating community sentiment reports, and now she has also opted to initialize our Community Blog. The first edition can be viewed here.
Regarding Stability Issues, Crashes, and “Ghost Bullets”
The last 30 days have been pretty challenging for us on a technical level. We had noticed an increase in reported issues pertaining to gameplay stability. Freezes that were taking place after a match starts, people were firing bullets that didn’t appear to be registering/doing damage as expected, random client crashes. We know this was an incredibly infuriating problem being faced by some of our users, and our team worked rapidly to replicate and resolve these problems. Between the utilization of our Support Desk via Nick Ward, and the curated and organized sentiment report drafted by DaraDef, we’re getting better at gathering, organizing, and acting upon community feedback as a whole. This is not always the easiest process; during sprint planning, we do our best to incorporate actionable feedback when and where we can to improve everyone’s quality of life.
However, we cannot create effective solutions without proper data and details. While we are seeing an uptick in reports related to performance and stability problems, we are also experiencing dismal feedback and participation rates when we reach out seeking more detailed information.
In an effort to help make the community’s feedback more effective, I sat with our Technical Director, Support Manager, and Community Manager, and we’ve structured some documentation on how to best ensure we are able to act upon your feedback. You can view this document here.
Our Player Support Manager, Community Manager, and one of our community moderators create bi-weekly “community sentiment” reports to give to our team. We comb through our Steam forums (including the CTE Sub-forum), as well as our CTE surveys, and collect community feedback from players regarding things like desired gameplay changes/suggestions as well as bug reports – especially things requested/reported by more than just a couple of players.
A lot of this feedback is taken into consideration, but there are a number of reasons why you may not see changes made: Production and QA need to decide on the priority level, how much time and resources would have to be put into it – can it realistically fit into the timeline along with current planned changes and features currently being worked? Additionally, we have to look into if it fits into the vision and identity of what Sandstorm is. It typically takes the studio 2+ weeks to slot in feedback into our production cycle as it stands; this should improve over time, as we continue to grow and ramp.
Camera, Replay, and Spectator Improvements
In order to improve the quality of life experience for new players, we have made some improvements to the Spectator camera. When a player dies, the camera will hover over their body and turn to face the direction of the killing shot or explosion that killed them. This will help new players gain a better understanding of dangerous areas of a map and curtail camping. Additionally, this should help new players to better “train” their eyes, with where to look when engaging various chokepoints. This feature is not available in Hardcore Checkpoint or Competitive. Community server admins will also be able to disable this feature on their servers and all players will have the option to turn this feature off in their game settings. When in this special mode, players can click to skip the camera or after a brief period, they will be forced into regular spectator. To hear a detailed explanation of how it works from our lead game designer Michael Tsarouhas, see our last livestream here.
While in regular spectator, players will have the ability to toggle X-Ray to show x-ray trails from thrown projectiles and fire support as well as a beam indicating which direction a player on-screen is facing. This feature will show friendly players for someone in spectator because they are waiting for a spawn wave, but will show all players for anyone on the spectator team. X-ray can also be used in replays.
The replay system itself has been prone to errors, having controls that didn’t always work consistently, and problems with recordings that either only recorded a portion of a match or failed altogether. We’ve taken steps to improve the replay system’s reliability both in terms of recording and controls. We will continue to examine the stability of the system and improve it as required.
Feedback from the CTE event regarding changes to the spectator camera after death indicated that we should slightly reduce the time before the camera is forced into regular spectator mode. Feedback did indicate alignment with our plans of having this feature disabled in Hardcore Checkpoint and Competitive along with options for server admins to disable the feature.
Dynamic Main Menu + Alert Improvements
In an effort to improve our ability to communicate with players we have added some additional communication options to the game’s main menu. There is a new banner message location that will allow us to place small text messages for a short duration of time. This will allow us to acknowledge known issues and provide communication in the game to players about what’s going on. Banner messages are intended for short-term messaging of limited duration issues such as Steam maintenance impacts, impending patches, or similar issues.
We have also updated the panel above the MOTD so we can change it dynamically. This panel would allow us to place communication to all of the players in the game that is meant to last over a period of time, such as when we were investigating the recent “ghost bullet” issue without having to replace the MOTD where we traditionally link to the latest patch notes or State of Production.
These are the first changes in a list of communication options we want to implement in future releases to expand our options for communicating with the community without having to rely on external platforms.
I’ve invited our Technical Director, Stephen Swires, to provide some commentary on the public release of our mod tools, which are due out in the 1.6 update. We know this is a feature that the community has been looking forward to for a while, and are excited to unveil this to the public.
“In the 1.6 update, we will be rolling out mod tools to the public. This will include the full Unreal Engine Editor that we use to create our own levels. The editor has built-in tools for uploading your mod and updating it.
In the initial roll-out, it will be possible to make levels, gamemodes, and mutators. Mods and guides will be available through Mod.io which will become the modding hub for the game. Mod.io is fully integrated into the game and allows community servers to host modded content and players connecting to their server will automatically be able to download the mods the server is running. Official and community documentation will be available from the Mod.io guides section.
Over the course of the year, we hope to expand the modding offering and expose more functionality to modders. In addition to this, we plan on distributing more official mod examples and guides.”