State of Production #9
June 11, 2020
Hey everyone, my name is Tim and I’m the Executive Producer at New World Interactive. It’s been a very busy month for the studio, we’ve released patch 1.6.3, run an open CTE preview event, and we’re just putting the finishing touches on the Nightfall update. I’m sure a lot of you have either played the CTE preview or been following the preview content we’ve been showcasing on social media and our website. While I hope you’re all excited about the content you’re seeing, I’d like to dedicate some of this SoP sharing about the things you won’t see in the release or in the patch notes. I’ve invited some of our team to share some of their experiences building Nightfall before looking at what’s coming next.
Key Points of State of Production #9
- Open CTE Event Results
- New Map: Tideway
- New Guns: Honey Badger, AS Val, Sterling, Grease Gun, and Welrod
- Patch 1.6.3
- Operation: Clean Sweep
Open CTE Event Results
Our public CTE preview of the 1.7 update was a huge success. During our first Play with Dev event we saw double the number of community members checking out the game than in our CTE event for the 1.6 update. Talking with players, they were all very excited for the update to come out and were able to help point out a few minor issues with night equipment that are being fixed before release.
Compared to the 1.6 release, we had over three times as many players fill out our survey about the release to help guide any last minute balance changes or tweaks. We are extremely thankful for everyone who came out to try the preview and provide us with your feedback.
New Map: Tideway
I’d like to invite our Level Design Director, Jeroen van Werkhoven, to share about the process of reimagining the classic map Buhriz for Sandstorm:
The reimagining of Buhriz was a close collaboration between the level design and art team. The first stage of development was finding the right scale for the map. In the early versions, we tried to extend the map, basically make it larger, because it felt a bit small for Sandstorm. Extending it wasn’t the right answer, and the map would be too different from what it is today. Buhriz is known for its open, challenging gameplay, but at the same time, it’s a relatively small map. We used the tightness and spacious feel of the map as a core element, and instead of making it larger, we tried to stick closely to the size of the original.
It gave us more control over the performance of the map, which was crucial. The riverbank is very open, and there weren’t many options without jeopardizing the look and feel of the environment if we had to add another structure to make sure not everything is rendered all at once on the screen. The smaller scale made it possible to add more detail in the map like the reeds and vegetation are an essential element; they provide the player with options to flank using the river bank or just hide in the reeds with a big sniper rifle.
The overall construction of the map was relatively fast after that point. During the playtests, we iterated a lot on gameplay, making the map a bit more forgiving in areas to maintain its fun factor but without losing the ‘soul’ of the original design.
The art pass was an ongoing process already during early development, but once we felt confident about the gameplay, we moved on and started to focus more on the visual pass. With the foundation that was laid down by the LD team, the art team started to build upon that. The desert feel was brought more towards the foreground by changing the color of the sand; the buildings received another layer of detail to give them more character and purpose. Throughout development, we did a lot of iterations on the lighting and post processing to emphasize the desert sandstorm feel, but it never felt quite right. We kept fiddling around with it until the very end of development before we were all satisfied with the look and feel of the map.
I’m very proud of what we accomplished as a team and turning the remake of Buhriz into a reality!
Building Night maps was a long process that involved a lot of iteration and refinement of both the map lighting and night-vision equipment. I’ve asked both Jeroen and our Lead Game Designer on Sandstorm Michael Tsarouhas (Mikee) to reflect on some of the challenges, surprises, laughs, and tears that took us from our regular day maps to Nightfall:
Mikee: Nightfall was our biggest update yet and had its design challenges. Every NVG type, NVG color filter, flashlight, IR flashlight, IR laser, night vision scope, weapon using NVG Point Shooting, and new weapon (of which there are FIVE this time) needed to be aggressively designed, created, implemented, playtested, and iterated on. The pandemic and transition to working from home, plus our pledge to start better theming and planning future updates, were also big challenges. I’ll tell you honestly, it was a real cocktail and a real whirlwind sometimes.
But frankly, it didn’t make a difference. We had a great platform to challenge the conventions of what is expected of FPS night gameplay. We knew what our vision was for night combat and we had to deliver on it. Night combat in real life has changed plenty in the last decade, and we had to be more ambitious than Insurgency 2014’s night update. We couldn’t just go with that old school green NVG filter, slap a flashlight on the guns, and call it a day. We researched NVG color filters and headset types, found unconventional weapons appropriate to the setting, made a system for infrared light, and gently put every piece of the puzzle together. The rapidity of everything made for some goofy ass bugs. I loved using the IR Laser Sight and NVG Point Shooting upgrades, so much so I’d rock it on both my Primary and Secondary weapons in many of our internal playtests. This led to an amusing glitch and an affectionate nickname from our QA team of “Mikee Lasertoes.”
The toughest decision in 1.7 was probably deciding to do only Co-op night maps. But this was a well founded one. In the previous Insurgency we found that night maps were very unpopular in PvP for a variety of reasons. Players would cheat with their gamma to see like it was daytime, and because of the game’s low TTK and objective oriented nature, it could feel really brutal and unfair with lots of arbitrary deaths and camping. We could try to design the night maps in a way that made these issues less prominent, but it would have meant overbrightening the level, increasing visibility, making night-vision goggles look worse, and ultimately making night combat less special and too much like day combat. We also always have to keep in mind a new player’s experience, and how if the very first time they play Sandstorm PvP is at night, it’s possible they’ll get frustrated with the game, quit, and never come back. So we decided to design and balance night maps for PvE specifically so that we could focus on making that experience the most engaging in terms of available equipment, level lighting, and overall gameplay. However, we built the night maps in a way that allows them to be played in PvP on community servers. And we have some “limited time playlists” for Night PvP (most likely on Push and Domination) planned for official matchmaking. We’ll gauge the response to these and decide if we want to more seriously consider dedicated night PvP play.
Jeroen: Building our night maps for Nightfall was a fun experience and demanded a lot from our team. We decided early on in development to make the co-op experience our main focus for creating compelling night maps. Each map received a separate treatment for the location of light placement and which lights should be on or off. It was a long but fun process of tweaking the lighting until it felt right. Especially for our larger maps, it was quite challenging at times. The challenge was finding the right balance between the usage of different night equipment. As a player, you don’t want to toggle your NVG constantly on or off. We had play sessions where this happened all the time, or testers were lost because even with the NVG activated, it was pitch black. Players walking into walls or shouting on their comms how lost they were was funny to witness.
When we got to the point where the night equipment was more finalized, and we had a better grasp on what works and what doesn’t, we started to be more playful with the lighting and added a more narrative feel. In Ministry, we started to use different colors of lights and using red created the feeling that there was a lockdown initiated.
In Crossing, we reduced the lighting inside caves to the bare minimum, still enough to make the NVG useful, but it created this scary feeling that the player always has to watch the corners. Outskirts, we went for a completely different approach; we kept the construction side well-lit and the surrounding areas we made a lot darker. The difference between dark and bright segments of the levels also affects gameplay and provides strategic choices to the player. Can I best use my NVG to capture the next objective, or should I instead equip a flashlight? These elements add a new layer of depth and fun to the battleground.
New Guns: Honey Badger, AS Val, Sterling, Grease Gun, and Welrod
Sandstorm is a game that’s all about gunplay, so how better to celebrate that fact than to introduce five new firearms that all fit our stealthy theme of Nightfall? I’ve asked Mikee to talk a bit about each gun we’ve added, what they bring to the table and where they fit.
Mikee: Having a proper theme for this update (night combat) made for some interesting weapon choices. We started off our brainstorming with feedback and survey data that indicated players wanted to see some Breacher weapons. The Honey Badger and AS Val, being low profile, subsonic, integrally suppressed, and in the case of the AS Val often requested, were a natural fit. Their tactical appeal, stealthy special operations function, and unique aesthetics checked all our boxes. They’ve got high fire rates, but very low muzzle velocities, and are built strictly for close quarters fighting.
The Sterling, Grease Gun, and Welrod were our spicier, less conventional choices. One of the things you’ll see a lot in real life in the conflicts from which we drew inspiration is old ass weapons. We found that our Sterling from Insurgency 2014 and Grease Gun from Day of Infamy, having integral suppressors and low muzzle velocities, fit well not just with the theme of the update, but in the setting. Plus, fun fact, the Grease Gun still sees use today with the Philippine Navy and Marine Corps as the “M3 Spec Ops Gen 2”. In the fiction of our game, these cheap weapons, still leftover from WWII, were shipped out to use in the fight against the insurgency. After all, local security forces often need to make economic choices. The Welrod also from Day of Infamy, frankly, is a bit of a joke and a meme gun. When we brought it up internally, we all laughed out loud at the idea. A bolt-action integrally suppressed pistol that could receive all of our upgrades was just hilarious to us. We decided to go for it. It does have some use as an extremely quiet and free backup weapon, and we also found it was a riot to use in a Welrods Only limited time playlist. So you can look forward to that! All of these new weapons when suppressed can only be heard at up to half the distance of all other suppressed weapon sound radiuses in the game, so they’re perfect for your flankers and your sneakers.
Coming with these new Breacher weapons is the removal of the AKS-74U and Mk 18 CQBR from the Insurgent and Security Breacher classes respectively, so that they’ll only be available for the Advisor classes. With this change we aim to give Breacher and Advisor more distinct gameplay roles, weapons, and equipment. We also want to make it where all specialized classes (Breacher, Advisor, Marksman, Gunner) have unique weapons not shared with other classes. This will make unlocking each class (a new mechanic we’re introducing in 1.7) more meaningful. We’ll be improving the Advisor class a bit too in line with this change. We’re giving their weapons access to optics from the opposite team in Versus and reducing the AKS-74U to 3 supply points instead of 4.
On May 26, we released patch 1.6.3 for Sandstorm. This patch was set to address a number of issues that were impacting the community. In particular, the smoke visibility issue was a long-standing one which was causing a lot of grief for our players. The overlay that we introduced put smoke in a better state than it was previously but is still being actively iterated on. We are actively looking to improve the consistency of when the smoke overlay is triggered and ensure the colouration of smoke is correct. We’ve been reading through the feedback posted on the Steam Forums thread and will be using that feedback to help improve the system as part of our next minor update coming just after the release of Nightfall.
Operation: Clean Sweep
With development on Nightfall wrapping up, we are starting to transition the team into bug fixing and optimization. Operation: Clean Sweep will allow our entire team to dedicate five weeks to cleaning up issues in our bug tracker, investigating and implementing new code-based optimizations, and addressing community feedback. Our Community Team regularly collects and provides feedback from multiple sources, including the Official Discord, Steam forums, and other community hubs. We will be releasing all these fixes as part of our minor update between 1.7 and 1.8. In our next SoP we’ll delve deeper into the specifics of what Operation: Clean Sweep will be including, but if you feel like there are specific longstanding issues that are due for some attention please communicate them on the Steam Forum Bug Thread.
That’s it for this month’s SoP, until next time, keep your stick on the ice.