June was an intense month - a combination of excitement at seeing the new characters come to life on the screen, and panic trying to meet the month's goals while being simultaneously ready to evacuate at a moment's notice.
I'm proud to say that the job got done, and as many of you saw Saturday night, we put together a short video introducing the first of our new characters. If you missed the video, here it is again:
A few points not mentioned in the video:
Atmospheric Rays - With shadows enabled, there is a new option to render realistic atmospheric rays. Rendering this effect isn't terribly expensive on it's own, however shadows must be enabled to render them, and the two combined generally require a high-end video card with plenty of fill-rate. (We really want Antilia to look beautiful, so we will continue to look for ways to improve the performance of these effects.)
Improved Lighting & Clutter - We had several developer meetings last month regarding improvements the overall atmosphere and impression players get from each area on the Isle of Kasau. We'd like to improve the use of lighting, color, atmospheric and ambient sound effects, and in a few areas have begun applying incremental enhancements.
Scene Object Batching - One thing overlooked by the video (because there was no way to display it) is that stationary objects are now automatically combined when the scene loads to reduce the amount of render operations. We've begun using tools such as nVidia's PerfHUD to analyze our scenes and look for additional ways to improve rendering speed.
New Character Mesh - We only displayed the female Vulan in the video, but we aren't far from having all the bloodlines done for the female. The male characters are also underway, of course.
New Animation System - The video touches on several highlights for the new animation system, but really the value of this new system cannot be overstated. The lack of layers and transitions was really holding back the previous characters. As the new character meshes started to come together, this item was bumped up to June instead of July/August, as we recognized how valuable it would be in animating attack sequences.
Head Look - The character now looks in the direction the player is looking. I am eager to see what role it'll play socially in the game.
Animated Facial Expressions - These were literally created Saturday evening as the video was coming together, and the results had me chuckling to myself as I saw them in-game for the first time. There will certainly be a lot more of these, with hot-keys or slash-commands to activate them in-game, and they could certainly add some life to the NPC's as well.
The number of things required to get to the next playable alpha is beginning to dwindle now, although there are still a few items that will take some effort to complete:
Finish up character meshes for all bloodlines on both genders.
Complete work on artificial intelligence system. We have the AI system started, but we still needs more behaviors for the NPCs to seem interesting.
Add combat skills & animations.
Implement player damage & death.
Server Up-Time for July
Currently, we are planning for the server to be up on July 4th. For the past 3-4 events, we've run them on the weekends, so we figured we would mix it up a little this time and do something mid-week. Another weekend event is also likely, but a date for that has not been determined yet.
Note that these will be social up-times only, and will not include any new content or software updates. Too much has changed in our development repository at this point that we can't roll out anything until we are ready to roll out everything, etc.