Here’s a (fairly extensive) breakdown on the past month to give a greater transparency into what we are accomplishing here in the studio during our March To Steam and beyond.
One of the most talked about changes that players saw was us beginning to break the “heal ball” gameplay. We have been taking a look at data in combination with player feedback; data drives a lot of the decisions we make. The community is the canary in the coal mine, in a way. We want them to turn around and tell us what we should be focusing on, and we use data to confirm that feedback. There is still a lot of bigger changes coming to the Tactical Cruiser healing system, like how each manufacturer-class ship handles healing, the strength of the beam, what “reloading” could look like, etc. The heal ball fixes are probably some of the most forward facing issues players are seeing the results of now, with Adrenaline Shot being tweaked in the last build.
Adrenaline Shot was updated to only kick in at 30% health now instead of 100%. We’re getting feedback now that that may be too low. Especially for Tactical Cruisers, 30% is not a lot of health. We’re looking at the data of this change along with player feedback and will be making further adjustments.
Officer Briefings were updated this past month, again mostly based off player feedback giving us the tip off that some of these things need changing. This was only the first iteration, and you can expect more improvements in that area in the future. We have three designers dedicated to combat and balance completely, with Officer Briefings being a big part of their focus. There’s a lot of design space we can improve and add to with OBs that should give players meaningful gameplay decisions to make.
The design team worked to create an extensive lore background. We looked at the world of Dreadnought and said “we have some lore, we have some background," enough to lay the foundation of the game, but we lacked deep-dives into the details. Our resident “lore-ologist” Evelyn has been working with Behrens and Tobiason to come up with some really fascinating stuff. An entire timeline from where we are now in 2018 to where the game takes place hundreds of years in the future. From government politics, the “Transhuman Solar War”, and more. We really think lore-fans are gonna love it. Our plan is to release it piece-by-piece through out-of-game videos and opportunities, because there’s just so much to cover. The team was able to create a lot of amazing stories that provide context to the game and build on layers beyond just “shooting other ships”.
Most of this is taking place out of the game because the team working on Dreadnought is focusing on moment-to-moment gameplay and making that the tightest, most compelling experience possible. Our narrative department has a little more opportunity to explore what the world of Dreadnought is, right now, outside of the game. There’s a really unique aspect to Dreadnought they’re defining, which is that it takes place in our solar system. Like, not even just our galaxy, our solar system. A lot of other sci-fi has you hopping all over the place and is just insane! This is a story, or anthology of stories, that take place in our little corner of the universe. And it’s still just a massive amount of space out there. And knowing that, knowing those were the parameters, the game dev team can run with all sorts of interesting narratives. But looking to the future, we are going to be folding more story into the game content. The story our narrative team has built this past month will be the foundation upon which we build all of the story beats in Dreadnought.
As we mentioned at the top of the month, we are updating the entire UI and UX to make it easier to navigate through our game. The entire dev team, management, everyone in the studio has been doing these UI/UX playtests weekly to give feedback and make sure everything is working properly, so we can give the UI over to you all, the players, and continue getting feedback and making adjustments and improvements when this goes live in 1.13 early July.
To that same point, we got 8v8 up and running on our internal PS4 servers! Our team is testing it out for balance and stability, and the results are really positive. One of our primary goals, as we have said, is PC and PS4 parity. You saw a lot of it in 1.12 and PS4 getting all of those bug fixes and changes shortly after. We’re playing now with four-man squads on PS4 and with 4-man Havoc, expect that in an update soon. With Steam release, our goal is to have the same game update out on both platforms on the same day. Future updates from there on out will be no more than two weeks behind one another. We don’t have cross-play yet, but who knows…
Speaking of squads, we know that some players have been asking about eight-man squads, instead of four-man. Eight-man squads are tricky for us, because right now it throws our matchmaker out of wack. Dreadnought was just 3-man squads in early beta, but that got weird with two groups of three and one group of two; you gotta have the right number of friends online and if you have too many you all can’t play together. So we bumped it up to four. Now, we are finding we need to continue making tweaks to matchmaking to take into account these team sizes. At present it looks at whether you are in a squad or not, but not necessarily how big that squad is. We want to improve the matchmaker to look at squad sizes and pair them *against* squads of similar size before throwing a bunch of randoms in.
We’re aware that matchmaking isn’t really pulling its weight as well as it could. Matchmaking is this thing that is a necessary evil, in a way. We have to match players together with a similar level of experience. But we also have to make sure that these players that are incredibly skilled at the game get to play. To some degree the matching pools at Legendary are what they are. There is only so much we can do at the top level of play and you’re getting into the game with the 16 people that are queued at the same time you did.
There is work being done now to coincide with Steam to make this a smoother experience. We’re also looking at a lot of architectural and engineering work to be done after Steam launch. Matchmaking is something you have to work on all the time. There will never be a point where we say “we’re done! Matchmaking is fixed!” and there are always improvements we will be working on to fine-tune the algorithm. We do understand what the issues are and what player feedback says about how players are being matched currently. We have, right now, deliberately kept our queues at the same rate to ensure we continue getting player data and feedback, through bots hopping in empty slots or the search parameters sometimes widening more than would be completely ideal. All of that changes Q3 of this year, as we set those advertising faucets to full blast and tons of new players will be joining. We believe the matchmaking will be pulling together players of more similar prowess at this time, and that is when we are really going to be making meaningful improvements to the matchmaker.
We’ve also retooled some of the new player experience based off this same data. Sheltered Matchmaking, which was originally introduced to give new players a safer experience that kept them away from the hardcore veteran players, was previously 10 matches. We’ve found that to be a bit overkill, and have since scaled this back to 5 matches. We’ve done the same with Proving Grounds matches, reducing them from three to one. Data shows that players have a solid understanding of game mechanics by this point and can “take off the training wheels” so to speak. Keeping new players in these games for too long and they start getting weary of it. Overbalance, and then pare it back. That’s our plan.
You’ve probably already heard some of the new sound effects in-game now. Our team is continuing that, and more and more updated, amazing sounds making their way into Dreadnought in coming updates. We’ve also built this ridiculous Adaptive Music System that takes into account your playstyles and gameplay. As the action rises, the bass gets louder and the drums get faster. Then you finish your strafing run and maybe things kind of calm down. It’s really your own personal soundtrack! We’re testing this now, hearing it in our playtests and making tweaks. That’ll be almost a complete reboot of all the music in the game when it comes out.
Art-wise, we have a new system for making assets that allow us to make fantastic new things like holographic, projected decals and animated forecastles. These decals will be projected off of the hull, with glitchy animations and scanlines similar to an actual hologram. You'll also be able to pick from a range of color options for the projected light, allowing us to come up with some wildly different and unique cosmetic options. Ships are gonna get a lot sexier! All of VFX are getting polished across the board, as well. We are going through all of our assets and making sure everything is optimized and looking great, from Bomb Catapults to Mines to Warp Drives.
We also ran our first XP event, granting Bonus XP to everyone on both platforms over Memorial Day weekend. There was some behind the scenes work that had to be pulled off to make that happen, and we are working on a system to make those events easier to do in the future. We want to get rid of the downtime needed when doing events like this. Being able to toggle these events on and off is our goal, and our engineers are making awesome strides towards this goal.
The engineers have also brought to bear something internally we are calling “Blue/Green Deploy,” and we’ve actually been taking this system for a spin during some of our recent maintenances and the results are impressive! The way it works is we sort of have two environments, Blue and Green, live and can swap between the two. So players are playing on Blue while are testing on Green. Then, once everything looks up to snuff, we flip it and now players are downloading and playing Green. Downtimes are minimal, maybe 30 minutes at most, which we are really happy with. There will always be some other updates we have to do, server stuff and back-end platform improvements, that make these downtimes longer. But if it’s just promoting a game update it’s super quick! Our engineering team has done a fantastic job of making these downtimes as little as possible.
Our Business Intelligence team completely replaced the analytic pipeline. It’s not terribly sexy, but we have better access to gameplay data and analytics to make even more decisions about gameplay balance, costs, progression speed, etc. Battle data in particular we are bursting at the seams with! All of those things that, just by tweaking a few knobs based on your feedback and our data, make Dreadnought a fun time.
Lastly, and probably the most exciting thing is, PC and PS4 has been significantly optimized in this past month. Looking at Dreadnought a few months ago, some of the performance was a little dodgy or chunky. The technical artists have retooled nearly all of the lights in the game, particularly in the hangar, to make those effects cheaper and easier to render. Draw distances have been improved, maps have been optimized, ships have been rebuilt and retextured, all without sacrificing quality. Performance across the board has just skyrocketed. The playability of certain maps has really improved, too. This kinda means our “min spec” is truly a minimum spec, meaning more players of various hardwares can still have a really solid experience in-game. On PS4, 8v8 becomes a lot easier to accomplish. Now, I don’t want to promise anything, but looking at the overhead we’ve been able to carve out with these optimizations it wouldn’t be impossible to do something like quadrupling team sizes even. What’s so awesome about this is the additional memory and performance room gives our design team a lot more tools to play with, and now they get to explore things like more complex maps, more dynamic or involved objectives, things like that. We can think outside the box and still keep a high level of quality.
Our art team, our design team, our balance team, all of us have been crushing bugs this month. We know that coming out on Steam is a huge deal and the team is focused on polishing the Dreadnought experience for both PC and PS4. Hundreds and hundreds of bugs, big and small, are being investigated, triaged, and fixed by the whole team. It’s a massive undertaking, and I want to give a huge shout out to the team for working around the clock to get us ready.
Outside of the game, we have a small team of artists working on a swag store so people will be able to rep their favorite manufacturer or ship. I wanted to take all of our awesome artwork and wear it! So we went to the higher-ups and said, “Make me shirts I can wear that have sick Dreadnoughts on them!” Expect this to come out soon, mostly because I want to have an crazy, giant Akula Vektor on my chest when walking around town ;)
Game Director - Dreadnought
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