January - February
Hey guys! We've got another batch of news for you as we get closer and closer to the first alpha test. We set the bar pretty high with our last devblog, we can only hope this one comes close!
This month we've spent a lot of time iterating over bug tests and refining what we currently have to an acceptable level for alpha. So while this blog may not be as visually packed as our last, it's a big step towards alpha.
First and the most significant update from this month, new characters! We've been working closely with character artist Rino Zvizdic on finally getting official characters for Blackwake. We won't be showing any customization features (hair, beards, heads) in this blog other than a few outfits. We'll go more in depth about character customization in our April devblog.
We hope to have the new character in the first alpha test, but we won't have any customization. We also won't have any new player animations in the first alpha test.
With the new base character model we needed to write a custom skin shader for Blackwake. This helps make the player look more alive compared to the harsh dead lighting you see with a normal PBR shader meant for objects. For this we've approximated a subsurface effect to emulate light passing through the skin.
While Rino is doing the character models, Tyler does the texturing to share the workload. A variety of outfits will be made each being progressively more detailed. Once customization comes into play we can test how much each of these outfits should cost with in-game score. The more detailed ones would of course take more playtime to unlock.
You'll be able to identify which team enemies are on based on the colors and clothing they are wearing. The Royal Navy will wear brighter colors, whites, blues, tan and yellow. While the Pirates will wear darker colors, blacks, greys, red, brown and green.
Since we're beginning to talk about player customization we want to take a quick moment to talk about micro-transactions. We firmly believe that looking cool and customizing your character is a major aspect of Blackwake and should always be available to all players and not locked behind a paywall. For this reason, we will never introduce micro-transactions into the game, even for cosmetic items. We feel this will lead to a stronger community and more rewarding experience for everyone who plays Blackwake.
Characters below are shown in-engine.
We have new weapon animations for the musket, blunderbuss, grenade, hammer, and tomahawk. We've also added support for camera animation from the weapons. Keep in mind we haven't started on sound effects yet.
Note: If for some reason you're worried about the FPS in these videos keep in mind the game is running in the Unity editor instead of standalone, and there is also a hit from recording.
Garrett has a few tracks he's working on that he shared:
Our captain command system has been reworked and re added. This is an alternative for captains who don't have microphones, and also helpful for captains who don't want to keep repeating themselves. When you select a command it is broadcasted to the crew in the upper left corner, it will also have a voice in the future. Some icons are placeholder for now.
Fast point lights
Our biggest bottleneck in Blackwake is draw calls, while we've made big improvements to this (see: performance) , a big contributor is still Unity point lights as we try and light the deck with lanterns or fires.
Since point lights cause everything they light to be drawn twice, just a handful of lights can cause a dip in your fps significantly, so we had to create a quick solution of fading in the point lights as you approach them, which worked well but was somewhat disappointing. This typically isn't a problem for games with details that are more spread out, but we're dealing with ships packed with props, players, and destruction.
Now we've written our own point light system for Blackwake. Fast point lights do not increase draw calls as they don't require a second pass, which means we can put them anywhere. Not only can we use them much more in the game, but we are able to turn down the quality of the lighting for players who may want to simplify the lights but not turn them off entirely.
We're still working out some kinks with the system, but so far things seem to be going well.
We've partially integrated Steam for the alpha. There's a few things we haven't done much of like stats, achievements, or joining friends, but we should have enough for Steam distribution and servers.
Nelson Sexton, creator of the free to play survival game Unturned, has been a huge help in this process. We reached out to him in the hopes that his experience would save us time on research by directly answering questions we had regarding Steam, getting us to alpha faster. If it weren't for him we would probably still be fooling with it.
We added a small bug report system to the alpha that will email us any issues you see. This should help us make fixes much quicker. Of course discussing bugs on our subreddit is always acceptable as well.
Once we've finished iterating on bugs and we feel we're at a point where the game is seemingly stable we'll begin testing internally with a small group of friends for a few days. After we've weened out any obvious game-breaking bugs or crashes we'll make an announcement for alpha. The closed alpha announcement will not be restricted to a devblog, so it may be at any time during the month. Keep in mind the closed alpha test is only for Kickstarter backers, we will not be doing any open testing.
The alpha will not be 24/7, and there will be no player hosted dedicated servers most likely until beta. Alpha tests are planned to be weekend tests, lasting from Friday to Monday (roughly 4 days). We hope to have them as often as we add chunks of testable content, so hopefully two a month as we add game modes and weapons.
We're doing this because there simply wont be enough content to leave the servers running constantly. With that said, as more content is added we will be making the tests longer, with closed beta ultimately being 24/7.
We're excited to get the alpha to our backers and see everyone in game!
Thanks for reading!
-Dakota & Tyler