New in version 1.8.322
January 25th, 2015
- Added prototype shadows to Linux OpenGL 4 driver. This implementation differs from the DirectX 11 version in that it uses a Percentage Closer Filter with a Poisson distribution to anti-alias the shadows.
- Added dynamic light sources to more "neon-style" signs, visible in the prototype DX11 or OpenGL drivers.
- Decreased the font size of the account conversion menu for mobile devices.
- Getting closer to wrapping up our work on the renderer, we should hopefully have just a bit more related work, and then be done for awhile.
- Shadows are kind of an interesting set of challenges, as each algorithm comes with its own set of visual problems (artifacts) that need to be mitigated. We're using 4X anti-aliased variance shadow maps (VSM) on DX11, as we appreciated the smooth shadow edges we get from anti-aliasing, but we don't love its inherent problems with thin-object shadows "fading in" near their origin.
- Thus, on OpenGL (for Linux, not yet for Mac) we're testing an implementation of traditional Percentage Closer Filter (PCF) shadow maps using a poisson disc to smooth the edges. This has the added benefit that it can be implemented on mobile by packing floats into RGBA, where this is not really possible (or is at least highly problematic) with a numerically-unstable variance algorithm. It may also be a little faster on older hardware (and uses less memory); but really, shadows have not been a big speed hit for us, compared to dynamic lighting and other factors. Unfortunately, PCFs also come with their own set of visual problems/artifacts, issues like shadow acne, a kind of flickering of maps appearing on certain surfaces, that have to be optimized with specific bias settings. There are particular challenges with rounded rotating asteroids. But on average it looks pretty good (which can be said about either algorithm).
- In both cases, the maps are placed on a single texture atlas for all four cascade levels. Cascades being shadow maps rendered to cover various distance-ranges, so you get high resolution close to you, but lower resolution off in the distance. Because of our huge view distance (20km or more), we're probably going to need another set of cascades to achieve the desired "final" fidelity on PC, but it's not bad as it is.
- So far, these algorithms have all been implemented for relatively fixed, "directional light" shadows coming from the primary lightsource (the nearest star/sun), but we intend to also add another couple of cases. Omni/spot lights under some situations (short distance shadows that don't travel far, cast by ship engines, for instance) will add a lot of nice effect with movement; a capship flying near a station or asteroids, for instance. Similarly, a special shadow map on your own ship (for 3rd-person views) will add a lot higher fidelity to self-shadowing than what we can achieve using the cascades-covering-20km.
- It's very common for game engines to use several different types of shadows for different environments and effects. Variance shadow maps can be easily blurred in hardware, for instance, where PCF shadow maps cannot. Thus, if we want to create heavily softened maps for omni lights in a fogged sector, for instance, that might lend itself to VSMs. Or, even with all directional and omni lights in unfogged scenes using anti-aliased VSMs, we might still use a PCF for self-shadowing your ship, so that all small details are sharply shadowed and defined (even when the shadow-caster is relatively small or thin, like a winglet or turret).
- As always, game development is a series of calculated tradeoffs to try and achieve a desired effect. There are few ideal solutions, mostly it's based on what works best for the specific kind of game, content, environment, desired experience, etc. This is one of the reasons we've been happy to have our own in-house engine. While we may spend time on this kind of R&D, where shadows might simply be a "check box" on an available middleware engine, we're doing the best implementation for our specific situation. Most engines are built for first-person shooters and/or lightweight "casual" games, not for open-world space MMOs with galactically-gigantic universes. Even at triple-A studios who are actually making first-person-shooters (many friends of ours), they often end up spending practically the same amount of time heavily-modifying and "hacking" the middleware engine to do what they want, a sometimes-ironic set of tradeoffs.
- Of course, back when we started in the mid/late 90s, there practically were no middleware engines anyway, let alone the free ones of today (the quake1-test debuted about the time we were building network code, and by the time Unreal shipped, VO was recognizably playable). But even so, being able to implement our own optimal solution to our specific set of challenges has always been a strength, and the game is better for it.
New in version 1.8.321 (January 18th, 2015)
- Added dynamic light sources to many of the "neon-style" floating signs, visible in the prototype DX11 or OpenGL drivers.
- New sound effects: Avalon Torpedo impact/explosions, queen and capship explosions, and special Heavy Assault Cruiser explosion effects.
- Preliminary dynamic lights have been added to the docking and launch bays.
- Fixed the glow effect so it isn't so over-bright.
- Shadowmap cascade levels are consolidated into 1 texture atlas
- instead of 4 separate textures.
- Tweaked the shadow cascade transition to be more subtle.
- Tweaked render state changes in the DirectX 11 driver.
- Ice asteroids and solar panels now receive shadows.
- Improvements continue to the rendering engine, and the assets to help enable them. Plus, some new sound effects, and you can expect more to appear as well.
- It's hard to convey the impact of lighting our signs dynamically, and having them influence their surroundings; it adds a tremendous sense of "presence" to the environment. Our "floating neon" signs flicker on and off, and change colors as they always have, but now they illuminate nearby objects and ships as well. This may seem like a subtle change, and it is, but I'm really enjoying the overall effect:
New in version 1.8.319 (January 7th, 2015)
- Fixed long blank screen pause when switching video drivers.
- Fixed performance issue for DirectX 11 driver when not rendering the station behind the station interface.
- Improved and tweaked shadow settings for DirectX 11 driver. Shadows are now anti-aliased and the darkness of shadows has been decreased further.
- For those who are interested, and can't yet see the new DX11 changes, I've made a little before-and-after demo screenshot of the current state of the engine. Please bear in mind that this is a very preliminary screenshot, and not indicative of anything remotely final.
- In fact, we're still deep in development on the DX11/OpenGL 4 renderer. There are some particular challenges that we face as an open-world game set in space, with sectors of unlimited scale. Shadows maps, for instance, have a set resolution and need to cover the entire viewable terrain. For most games, even some recent "open world" shooters, that's still relatively modest compared to even our (current) view distance. Since 2002, we've had a 20 kilometer far-Z, which (for reference) would let any current player's view encompass about 3x the entire gameworld of Skyrim. This adds challenges to stretching shadow maps over such a large area, while making them "look good" up close, and not using a tremendous amount memory.
- On top of that, we're looking to drastically increase our visible Z range (due to extremely large capship-stations and other objects coming in future versions), perhaps to "near-infinitely" through the use of multiple Z ranges along with imposter rendering. All of this makes for a lot of R&D and testing, to find something that works "best" for our particular usage.
- Usage is key, as each effect implementation, and rendering architecture choice, has its own set of tradeoffs. Different algorithms come with particular artifacts, and a lot of this kind of research is figuring out what looks the "best", while also giving you the desired flexibility, framerate and overhead that you require.. and that's going to vary, game-to-game. We're a space title, so "soft" shadows aren't really our thing, except as a special case (ion storms, mining-debris fog), as we generally don't have the kind of environmental atmospherics that provide this sort of "soft" diffusion. So we're currently testing some effective sharp-edged (anti-aliased) solutions that scale well over long distance.
- But what's most important is how the effects will be used. Eye candy is nice enough, but it really needs to justify its existence (and impact on framerate) through value in storytelling, and in the immersive experience. It's these environments that I find the most exciting, the most inspiring of game design. Situations that might fill a player with genuine fear, or awe. Images that might let us each tell how we've "seen things you people wouldn't believe.."
New in version 1.8.318 (December 26th, 2014)
- In honor of the occasion, we have a few things to announce, including a newsletter update, and some graphical improvements in the latest versions (Shadows in DX11!).
- Additionally, we also are in our standard Holiday Promo, welcoming back any player who has previously had a Premium-level subscription to the game (more than 60 days ago), they may play for free between December 25th and January 1st! We hope we see a lot of older veteran players popping by to say hi!
- VO 1.8.317-318 included:
- Very "beta" prototype implementation of Shadows, for DirectX 11 only (OpenGL will require some changes and will come later). Contains numerous known artifacts, bugs and things that need tweaking. Made available as a demo-prototype only, to let people see something we have cooking.
- To disable shadows if the framerate is too low, type "/set rdoshadows 0" (without quotes) in the console or chat.
- For those interested in rendering tech, this is a test using cascaded variance shadow maps, and is not necessarily the final algorithm we may choose (and even if we did choose to use this, there would be many tweaks and fixes). We're in an R&D phase on much of this rendering technology.
- Tweaked the shadow cascade level distance calculations to improve quality.
- Decreased the darkness of the shadows.
- Removed shadows in fog sectors.
New in version 1.8.316 (December 14th, 2014)
- Fixed buffer overrun in prototype OpenGL driver for Linux.
- Added reminder to mobile version to convert the one-click account so character progression isn't lost.
- Added a periodic request to rate the mobile version of Vendetta Online.
New in version 1.8.315 (December 6th, 2014)
- New prototype OpenGL driver has been added to Linux. To try it out, go to Options -> Video -> Change driver... and select 'OpenGL 4 GKGL driver'. Multiple dynamic lights are enabled with this driver if your GPU supports the GL_ARB_ES2_compatibility extension. Dynamic lights include weapon fire, rocket/missile/ship exhaust, and explosions.
- Strikeforce are now launched when you have Temp-KOS against Corvus and you enter Corvus monitored space.
- Auto-aim can only be toggled up to twice per second.
- Fixed a bug where Capture-the-Cargo ended twice at the same time.
- Fixed rendering issues when changing Scaling mode on certain Android devices.
- Optimized nearby dynamic-light finding algorithm.
- Added optimization to consolidate multiple nearby lights.
- This new version continues the recent graphics improvements, now with a prototype renderer for Linux players. We expect there to be problems and artifacts on certain drivers, so please report any issues in detail on the Bugs forum (a thread has already been started). Linux drivers are unfortunately not quite as gaming-robust as Windows, simply because the chip manufacturers making the original drivers tend to put more time into the platforms with the largest gaming market share. The teams of volunteers working on the open-source drivers do a great job, but often have fewer developer resources than the huge teams placed on Windows and console platforms. Thus, we could really use everyone's help to track down and work around any bugs we discover under Linux OpenGL, to try and make the experience as stable as possible.
- Although the new driver is called "OpenGL 4", it does not necessarily require openGL 4.x native support. It does require the GL_ARB_ES2_compatibility extension, which for some chips is available even though the rest of the driver only supports OpenGL 2.x or 3.x (Intel integrated laptop GPUs, for instance). The GL_ARB_ES2_compatibility extension became required in OpenGL 4.1, but is also supported by many GPUs that do not actually support 4.x.
- As a final reminder, if you're interested in testing Vendetta Online for iOS, please sign up here! We are only taking a limited number of people, so sign up as soon as possible!
New in version 1.8.314 (November 27th, 2014)
- Trident Powercells now have 125 Grid Power, but very high mass.
- New Trident-specific turrets, requiring 25 grid power, available in certain sectors (Capship Swarm Turret, Capital Cannon).
- Added dynamic lights to the Jump and Warp animations.
- DirectX 11 dynamic light shaders are more efficient.
- Added screen resolution and anti-aliasing options to the DirectX 11 driver.
- Added support for x86 based Android devices.
- Added support for AndroidTV and the Nexus Player.
New in version 1.8.313 (November 22nd, 2014)
- Mine explosions no longer do double-damage to the person laying them.
- Weapon shot visual-effects are less likely to pass through objects.
- Re-arming free equipment during Deneb War military missions now includes text to say the purchases are free.
- Touch-screen HUD graphics slightly improved, to indicate the left input area is a region, as opposed to buttons.
- Initial single-player tutorial now uses the TPG Raptor instead of the EC-89.
New in version 1.8.312 (November 16th, 2014)
- Added dynamic lighting to asteroid mining effect.
- This was actually a very productive week, as Ray has been working really hard to back-propagate many of the newer DX11 effects to OpenGL. Unfortunately, this also uncorked a whole slew of new issues, related to particular chipset drivers and various incompatibilities. He's pushed through and straightened out much of it, but we still have more work to do before this will be production-ready.
- In the meantime, Curt has added some cool new lighting effects for those who can see it , with the mining impact-area now illuminating things (the asteroid, for instance). It is not currently colored, as the actual mining flare itself is always white. But, we may change that, to make the flare match the color of the mining beam, to add a little more color (and information) to the universe. For the moment though, we think it jazzes up those skyscapes of NPCs mining in the distance.