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Maintaining state in multiplayer games

As anyone who has developed multiplayer games is well aware, most of the issues come down to maintaining state. As players interact with the world, there’s a balance that has to be struck between a snappy, responsive user experience and the state validation and propagation.

When any given request in a client-server setup could require anywhere from 40 to 400 milliseconds to complete, you have to do some fudging, and it’s handling cases where your guesswork failed that really take some solid engineering. Alternately, a peer-to-peer approach gives saves you half that trip in time, but adds a host of complexities to state management that make it just as difficult to use effectively. Add on top of this that the Xbox system through XBLIG can only handle about 40 kb/s throughput, and you find yourself jumping through an incredible number of hoops to send as few packets and as little data as possible at any given time. The amount of engineering that has to go into making a Multiplayer experience on the Xbox (as opposed to standard PC or web) is enormous, and easily more obtuse by an order of magnitude.

That isn’t to say any of these things are new problems, or obstacles related only to our development or that make multiplayer for XenoMiner unique – they’re the shared pains of the entire community, as can be seen on multiple threads and how-to’s when you do a few pointed searches. Some games handle it more effectively than others, we’re shooting for a smooth, efficient and accurate system for the players which has of course required more thought and more time.

Forging ahead with multiplayer and redesigned textures

We still plan to have a release before the Christmas holiday.

Multiplayer, due to complications, will probably have to wait till next month (development continues, just won’t make it into release).

Glass has made its way in (albeit there are a few complications that may require it to wait with MP for release). It looks pretty awesome.

The new textures are nearing completion, with the height maps added the depth of the blocks we can create is really amazing.

Everything else is in some shade of finalization. There’s always that last 10% of polishing, UI and testing that it’s hard to account for and always takes longer than expected. Work continues!

Our First Feature and Content Update! Coming soon…

Enough patching and bugfixing, let’s get to the good stuff!

Here’s what we’ve been working on between bug reports. We hope you find these additions exciting, and consider the possibilities as we work on even more. Keep in mind we do this on our nights and weekends, not as a full-time gig – we’d love to have even more, but this is a pretty good start

Currently Planned for next update (Subject to Change, No Promises, Guarantees or Warranties!):

Not just any old boring door either. We’ll be implementing a style of door that is retractable and can be scaled. It will not require any specific rotation or axis, so it will be possible to have horizontal or vertical sliding doors, interlocking “toothed” doors, as well as access panels and single-block hatches – they can be on the floor, in the ceiling, or well, wherever. They could even be conceived as a retractable bridge, or collapsing walls. They’ll really be up to your imagination, and they’ll be … well … awesome.

Switches and Conduit.
Starting with Doors, Switches will be used to activate adjacent doorframes, or can send a signal down Conduit blocks which transmit over a distance according to the switch. This also paves the way for Power Grids (though not in the current update) which will answer some of the questions such as “why are solar panels creating so much energy?!” Yeah, those Cores and Forges and Relays are supposed to require power

The CentriForge will have a ‘tabbed’ list for item creation.
Gear will take damage, and there will be a Repair screen in the CentriForge for fixing it.
There will also be a Reclaim screen in the CentriForge , which will let you destroy/recycle items for some of the materials back.

Game Engine
The Voxmill engine will have received its first major overhaul, freeing up about 50% of the memory usage from before, paving the way for future updates to start adding things like fluids and air pressure.

Here are a few more things that will likely be included, but have a little more “maybe” to them (we need time to playtest how they affect the game):

“Special” actions related to Gear
Gear items, such as boots, helmets and suit may now have special actions associated with them. The Grav Boots are an excellent example of this (already implemented). We hope to extend this feature by adding Zoom capability to Helmets (later other vision enhancements) and Thruster/Jet Packs to either the Backpack or the Suit. Prototypes are already in, these are in heavy testing.

Difficulty Levels
For those who want to turn up the heat and make the game harder, a mode or two to enhance hardship. Probably a Hardcore mode as well (permadeath).

Keep in mind this is what we’ve managed to do while in the midst of fixing and closing out two patches worth of bugs. If the game continues to grow and do well, we can continue with our bigger and more important update plans. Please continue to spread the word, as the game needs to thrive for us to get to even bigger and better future updates!

Patch 1.01 in Playtest

Patch 1.01 is now up in Playtest, we plan to move it to Peer Review this weekend, with the hope of having it through fairly quickly.

The major issues, terrain stuttering and intense lag, as well as load code 4’s (we believe, these are desperately difficult to replicate) should be resolved.

Besides closing about 99% of the other bugs in the bug reports section, we had a bit of time to make some much need game-balancing tweaks:

Ore has been revamped, with an eye for more even distribution, including of rarer metals. Please note that though it is somewhat more plentiful, you may still find stretches of time where you can’t find *that one certain ore* – that’s the nature of chaos, noise, and the Random Number God. Still, we’d like your feedback on it. As always, we need to strike a balance. This will not change ore in an area you have altered (built or dug) but will change untouched terrain. Generally speaking walk about 16 meters (voxels) away from any changes to the landscape and you should be standing over fresh ore distribution.

Caves, due to some issues we found in the terrain generation, were nearly non-existent. This was not intentional. You will now find the land cracked with inviting caverns to explore. Like the ore fix, this may alter your saved game terrain – it will only affect areas you haven’t altered already, but obviously if you were building near a cave you may find the terrain nearby unexpectedly changed. We don’t feel this should damage anyone’s game (far from it, it makes the game twice as exciting) but we do apologize if it does – correcting the bugs did not allow us room to selectively make the changes (such as to new games only). The prevalence of caves also helps alleviate some of the ore concerns, as scouting terrain and cave exploration are now very valid methods of ore collection and offer an alternative to direct mining.

We took a long look at radiation, and we weren’t happy with the extreme effects it was having on gameplay. The danger it presents is good, intended, and a great part of the game’s atmosphere, however: the dynamic lighting, soft shadows, sky shader and planet shader effects we use during the day are part of the palette we were using to build this world with, and we’ve found that they are almost totally lost on players because the daytime is simply not a survivable experience (to any degree). In our push to get the game ready in time for the Uprising III, we hadn’t had a chance to really evaluate this dynamic. Our original intent was that day-walking would not be instantly deadly, but would be dangerous and something one did with a fair amount of trepidation.

To restore this balance, we’ve toned radiation down so that in emergency gear (starting equip), the player should be able to last nearly or just past a day’s worth of star-shine (you’ll be delirious and near death, but theoretically still alive). A second day without any medication or some time out the sun would finish you off. Upgraded gear should give you a bit more daytime freedom, though still at cost, and finally fully upgraded gear should let you walk during the day without worry. This draws the game more in line with our original vision, and helps open the world up for greater exploration and experience, as well as paving the way for us to implement more radiation related features (Endurium is supposed to be an unstable element you know …). We’re going to watch this closely and value your feedback as always.

The final game-play tweak we have undertaken is to bring the pricing of our schematics into line with the speed of progress and time investment we had originally envisioned. Since release, we’ve realized that the pricing used was increasing linearly on amounts AND on rarity, causing an almost impossible progression curve for the player (except for the ever incredible @dstruxon, whom we’re pretty sure is actually a xenos bot in disguise!).

What we’re doing in 1.01 is adjusting the prices so that the rarity increases, but the material amounts themselves remain relatively stable (with a slight upward trend). This means that if a second tier item was perhaps 4 steel, then a third tier item might be 4 – 6 titanium (instead of 8 – 12). This should have a direct impact on the amount of content everyone gets to see, as well as alleviating some of the high-end ore issues – you’ll still need rare metals like gold, but you won’t need it in the hundreds. In our original vision for this game, we imagined players building up a small base, then branching out, placing outposts and survival shelters/caches around the map, each with their own set of equipment (centriforge and processors). This also helps prep the way for future updates which will lend the game to situations where a player may not have hours and hours of luxury free time to build up … As always, your feedback will be appreciated and help us continue to refine this area of the game.

We did have time to add a few convenience features:
Stack size increased to 100
Bot now drops mined blocks if inventory is full
Bot can be recalled with Left Trigger when away, a popup message confirms first
Lights are now stackable!
Lights can now be crafted with the suit’s mini-forge.
Dynamic lighting now applies to item models (solar panels etc)
FOV has been increased to a more standard First Person FOV (it was 45 … not sure how we did that …)
Crash site now includes a crashed ship/capsule (only in a new game or in a saved game in which you mysteriously managed to not alter the area)
New intro tutorials that should hopefully help with the initial learning curve, or talk people to death.

See the official Bug List for fixes addressed in this patch, and thanks for creating such a great community around us and this game, we will continue to strive to improve and extend the experience for all of you.