Server-side Release, Android updates

Last night (02/21) we shipped:

- Vendetta Online HD update now supports devices without gyros.
- Unaligned pirates have been re-implemented as Kourier (Erlang) persistent NPCs.
- Additional analytics added for monitoring of Kourier stability and NPCs.
- Drastically decreased the bandwidth usage of Bractus P1 test NPCs.

The VO HD APK update has been shipped to broaden support for Android tablets that don't feature gyroscope sensors. This requirement was originally related to Daydream VR, but that system has been discontinued by Google, and it came to our attention that some people who purchased VO HD had since upgraded to tablets that weren't allowed to install the game. This addresses that.

The unaligned pirates have been completely re-implemented, moving from the Lua codebase into Erlang, using the Kourier persistent-AI system. The goal here is to see more expansion of this type of gameplay, not just of the pirates themselves, but other types of NPCs and varied activity, in the framework that allows us the best power and persistency in NPC management. The original unaligned pirates were a very quickly-implemented test case, and now we're trying to move in a more production-grade direction, which will also allow for possible future behaviours, like NPCs pursuing players across sector boundaries, and the like.

The addition of Analytics for the Kourier system may not seem the most exciting, but the point here is to monitor the stability of certain issues we've seen in the past, with the trade convoys dropping off in quantity and the like. The trade-convoy dropoff was actually mitigated in the fall of last year, as a side benefit of other changes. But, this is kind of monitoring is still very important to making major changes to the economy, which are planned.

We've also tweaked the behaviour of certain NPCs when mining. NPC navigation makes use of "control systems", which in some NPC ship/mass/thrust configurations could result in directional stability that never entirely "settles", when they're trying to do something like "look" at where they're mining. This was causing the new test-sector NPCs in Bractus P1 to "fidget" while mining, which un-necessarily used up bandwidth, especially given the 300 NPCs in that sector.

That's been addressed, and we still encourage people to play around with the NPCs in Bractus P1, and give us feedback. They will only become aggressive if attacked, but then they will tend to swarm if one of them is attacked.

That's all for now. We are working towards more substantial gameplay changes, we just keep running into issues we need to fix first. Have a great weekend, everyone!

Vendetta Online 1.8.505, Content Testing.

The last two weeks have actually had some major changes in basic game functionality. Firstly, last week (Feb 7th) we released this:

VO 1.8.505 includes:
- Added new "Streaming Mode" to game network protocol, drastically reducing the loading time of complex sectors.

To help test this, this past Friday the 14th we released:

- Bractus P1 high-density asteroid test sector now includes Guardians, who drop items and grant XP, and will start out non-hostile, but then react based on proximity to direct aggression, in a way that is new to NPCs in the game. Expect these NPCs to be dangerous, if attacked.

First of all, the "Streaming Mode" release has been a long time coming, having been planned for years. Going all the way back to the early days of Deneb, we've run into challenges with high-complexity sectors taking too long to load for players. This was further exacerbated when we launched on mobile (higher average latency), and then further still when we added the "movable debris" testing sectors, like Latos F12, or the Unaligned Pirate sectors.

The new Streaming Mode goes a long way to alleviate this, and opens the door to much higher-complexity sectors becoming the norm, which has always been the goal for the Universe Redux. If you're used to annoyingly long load-times for certain sectors (like Latos F12, for example), we suggest you try things now.

People on high latency connections, like on mobile devices in Asia, have seen improvements on the level of 21-times faster load times, in sectors that have very high complexity. All players will see improvements, however, they're even apparent to us on "local" server connections.

The AI changes build on the AI navigation/pathfinding improvements we made in much of January, and open the door to a lot more interesting gameplay, like stealthy situations where one may need to avoid detection, while "stealing" valuable goods from core Hive sectors, or blockade running and smuggling on Nation borders, and other cases where barriers should be challenging to overcome, but with rewards that make those challenges worthwhile.

We delayed this announcement a little bit to make sure everything was working smoothly, but if you run into any issues, please report them on Bugs or (if exploitable) via a Support Ticket. Note that we already addressed the lightning-mine aggro issue on the new NPCs, yesterday.

Thanks much everyone!

Server-Side Release

There have actually been several server-side releases over the last few weeks, covering a lot of ground, and including (as of tonight):

- Destroying Unaligned Pirate fighters and capships now rewards with Light and Heavy Weapon XP
- Unaligned Pirate fighters have a greater variety of occasional drops.
- Game protocol has been tweaked to enhance sector load times and network performance. Further tweaks coming.
- Lone Hive Queen escorts are now fundamentally more aggressive.
- Smaller NPC ships are now generally more effective at queuing and docking with stations, in large numbers.
- NPC Capital Ships are better at navigating around obstacles, and adaptively learning sector layout.
- Implemented and tuned a variety of strategies to make NPCs better at navigating "extreme" density asteroid fields.
- Enabled active monitoring of NPC performance analytics across the entire universe.
- Tuned the AI "learning" algorithms to better adapt to dynamic changes in sectors, over time. Some of this may take a little while to evolve.

A great deal of work went into all of this development, and it should put us in a much better position to build content that was effectively "blocked" by problems with NPC navigation and the like.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Server-side Release

Tonight's server-side update includes the following:

- NPC AI path-finding and refinement has been generally improved.
- NPCs are less likely to get stuck against asteroids.
- Experimental NPC AI-navigation test-sector in Bractus P-1.

Plus various other tweaks, including a lot of new NPC and AI related development statistics and metrics that are being reported via the Analytics system we mentioned in the last newsletter. This is a big help, as it allows us to easily visualize and note undesired outcomes, or recognize particular problem sectors, etc.

The point of this work is to help refine the NPC navigation, so it's more robust with larger and more complex sectors, as well as larger numbers of bots. After all, there isn't a lot of point in a big Universe Redux, if the NPCs don't behave in an optimal manner.

The experimental sector that is (temproarily) in Bractus P-1 is really just a development testbed, where we'll continue to experiment with different quantities of bots under varying conditions. We have this running on internal development servers as well, of course, but there's also some value to testing things on the production game cluster.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Vendetta Online 1.8.504

VO 1.8.504 includes:

- The keychain list now directly shows what content each key may access.
- Added Audio options to disable engine and/or turbo sounds.
- When a new livery is purchased along with the ship, it now notes this in the response message.

VO 1.8.503 previously included:

- Fixed blank screen error when gamepad menu is closed on first run on Windows.
- Gamepad menu should no longer show up for HOTAS setups on Windows.

Happy New Year to All!

Server-Side Release

A server update is being pushed tonight, which includes the following:

- Escort mission delivery NPCs now take priority over generic NPC traffic when docking to stations.
- NPCs now more aggressively target mines if they are between the NPC and its target, or if the NPC is damaged by the mine.

We'll be continuing to evolve the NPC AI behaviour, please let us know how it's working.

Happy Holidays, and have a great weekend, everyone!

Happy Holidays, Newsletter Update

Happy Holidays!

We've released a Newsletter update, which is available here for those who do not get it in their email Inbox:

We've spent some time on server-side tools and analytics over the last couple of months, so I took the unusual step of illustrating how this helps us internally. Hopefully some of you find that interesting, or at least it helps convey why we needed to put in that time.

Basically, it's far, far easier for us to release new gameplay, if we have better tools to tell us "how well" it's all actually working. These improvements have been incredibly helpful so far, and we're really excited about how they'll enable us to make broader changes to the game.

As usual, the Holiday Promo is active, between the 24th through the end of the year, and we encourage people to stop by for the various scheduled Game Events:

- December 26th, 7:30pm CST (12/27 @01:30 UTC) - Hive Ion Blaster War
- December 28th, 8:00pm CST (12/29 @02:00 UTC) - Corporate Sector Run
- December 29th, 5:00pm CST (12/29 @23:00 UTC) - Championship Race
- December 29th, 7:00pm CST (12/29 @01:00 UTC) - Vet Week Bus Race

You can also find the Events on Facebook:

All the best, everyone!

Server-Side Release

Tonight's update is entirely server-side and requires no game client update.

These updates are inspired directly from player feedback and reports on the Forums, and we've attempted to improve the related situations. If you continue to find problems or negative ramifications, please continue to post to either Suggestions or Bugs, as appropriate.

- Station Defense Turrets will now clear out mines, in addition to the Station Defense Fighters. This may help mitigate some reported situations relating to the conquest of stations.

- Unaligned Pirates now have different defend behaviour, with a more careful allocation of available defense resources. This should be an improvement, but will probably need further tweaking, and is expected to continue evolving in the future. Forum feedback on any further problems are certainly appreciated.

- In situations where the pilot of a capital ship has the Key to a conquerable station, and the other player(s) controlling their turret(s) then attack the conquerable station defenses, the entire capship will now be flagged as TempKoS for the next 15 minutes.

- Fixed a new (rare) sector crash that had appeared in the past week, relating to sector startup and analytics.

- New administrative (guide) commands added to enhance management of "public" channels (1 and 100), in keeping with the discussions in the Toxicity RFC from earlier this year. These are the first steps of moving from the vote-mute system to a new "report" based mechanism.

(The above release notes will likely also be added to the next client-side patch, to show up in the game patch log).

That's all for now. Remember to stop by for the Behemoth race on Sunday! 5pm Central.

Have a great weekend, everyone.

Vendetta Online 1.8.501

VO 1.8.501 includes:

- Fixed problem with NPC capship turrets, causing them to not take damage.
- Fixed issue with not being able to change the command for the Start button on gamepads on PC platforms.
- iOS version now requires iOS 12 or newer. iPhone 5S is now the minimum spec.
- iOS version now fully supports Xbox One and Sony DualShock 4 controllers with App Store update (some differences in support between iOS 12 and 13).
- iOS now offers recurring Subscriptions via In-App Purchase, after the App Store Update, including the requested 12-month option.
- iOS version now defaults to rendering shadows for new installs.
- iOS version now supports OpenGL ES 3.0, with instanced rendering.
- iOS now has multi-threaded rendering enabled by default.
- iOS version now defaults to 4x anisotropic filtering, with two dynamic lights.
- iOS textures and effects have been improved in quality, particularly normal maps.
- Fixed issue with iOS version not saving changed gamepad commands.

Lots of updates, particularly for iOS. Obviously, some of these will require an iOS App Store update, but hopefully that will be approved next week.

This update actually has broader ramifications beyond iOS itself, because in order to release a "universe-redux" type of expansion, we had to finish updating the game engine across all platforms. Android happened a few months ago, now iOS, etc.

Please report any issues on the Bugs forum. Have a great weekend!

Vendetta Online 1.8.500

VO 1.8.500 includes:

- Escort mission NPCs now jump properly from non-running sectors (server-side, fixed last week).
- Android version should properly support camera cutouts on the non-HD version.
- Certain economic trade routes have been tweaked.
- Fixed upside-down Trident material on iOS.
- More developer analytics added for monitoring of game economy, other aspects of gameplay.
- Fixed a bug, on first runtime, where the Character Selection menu occasionally appeared, instead of the Character Creation menu.
- Enhanced the first-runtime startup experience on Android for new users.
- APK and library updates for all Android versions.
- Further improvements to server-side CPU utilization, management.

A whole lot of small changes this week, of which this list is only about half of what we actually accomplished. Most of the iOS updates had to be pushed out to a future release.

Most of this maintenance is a stepping-stone to accomplishing specific gameplay and game expansion related goals. Stuff like "We need better economic analytics before we start actively improving the game economy". Or "We need to update our iOS engine to more efficiently render large numbers of objects, like we do on Android".

Please report any issues on the Bugs forum, have a great weekend everyone!

Vendetta Online 1.8.499

VO 1.8.499 includes:

- Fixed issue with the client incorrectly displaying the cost of repairing ships that are in the cargo hold of capships when docked to a station.

This issue has been reported by a few players, and while it was entirely "cosmetic" (it did not actually impact credits or purchases in any way), it certainly looked scary, with ammo purchases supposedly taking tens of millions of credits. It was an obscure bug, in an odd case, and after a bit of digging to track it down, should now be resolved.

Additionally, quite a bit of background bugfixing and enhancements continued this week, on making the server more efficient, with better usage of available CPU time. This is going to become quite important, we're looking to increase the number of bots per sector, as well as create more interesting NPC groupings and behaviours, all of which mandates the maximum server efficiency.

Moth Race Events coming up on Sundays! Be sure to stop by around 5pm Central (11pm UTC) on Sunday for the first of a whole series of Behemoth Races. Check the in-game Event news for more information.

Vendetta Online 1.8.498

VO 1.8.498 includes:

- NPC capships and Queens should no longer drift out into space when battling other vessels.
- Fixed issue with Updater crashing due to invalid code signature on MacOS 10.15.

Another week with a lot of background and server improvements, to help the game as a whole. For instance, this update also includes a feature helping sectors share available-CPU on a given server more effectively, dynamically updating their own relative CPU priority, making the game run a bit better for everyone.

We've also added many more analytics, which is helping us shed light on existing debugging problems, while also better keeping an eye towards any future issues.

Mac users should be happy with this latest update, which we hope will finally bring better stability to OS X 10.15+. If anyone continues to encounter problems on their Mac, please let us know, either on the Bugs forum (preferred), or via a Support Ticket if there's a need to convey private information.

Thanks everyone, and have a great weekend!

Vendetta Online 1.8.496-497

VO 1.8.497 includes:

- Attacking and defense distance of Unaligned Pirate defenders now varies more randomly.
- Unaligned pirate trident now comes back between 4 and 12 hours after being defeated.
- Access Key names can only contain letters, numbers, and spaces. Leading and trailing spaces are removed.
- List of items desired by a station are now determined by maximum profit.
- Framerate limiter is not used when VSync is enabled on Windows.

Earlier this week in 1.8.496:

- Improved game stability with MacOS X 10.15 Catalina

A number of updates this week. The OS X patch should alleviate problems with the 10.15 update, but if anyone runs into other new problems on the Mac, please let us know via the Bugs forum or (if necessary for privacy) a Support Ticket.

We've made some tweaks to the Unaligned Pirates, based on Suggestions Forum player feedback, hopefully you enjoy them. Further (respectful) feedback, based on testing, would be welcome. The Pirates are a system in which we can experiment with NPC behaviour, without risking breaking other large areas of the game, so we're much more willing to try "new things" there.

The Items desired by the station is now based around maximum profit, which means it excludes items where we cannot calculate profit, like items the station may "want" but are inherently "drops", and the like. We will continue to evolve this, but for now it should at least solve the issue of people arriving to sell things on the "High Demand" list, and finding they didn't make a profit.

That's all for now. Have a great weekened, everyone!

Vendetta Online 1.8.495

VO 1.8.495 includes:
- New experimental unaligned pirates show up in Latos on Saturdays around Noon Central (5-6pm in Europe). They are more likely to drop high-value capship parts, although it's still a rare occurance. They are independent of the other unaligned pirates.
- Fixed issue where swapping Aim and Throttle input regions on mobile didn't get applied immediately.
- Owners of User Access Keys no longer see other owners of the key unless you also own the Owner Key.
- The Keychain.list command is rate limited to one query at a time. Subsequent querys are queued up until the current query finishes. This may affect the speed of plugins that query all keys in a keychain in rapid succession.

We've spent a lot of time on server maintenance, over the last few weeks, but it's been paying off very well. Practically every single server and aspect of our infrastructure has been migrated, upgraded, and otherwise re-done. Some things have been made anywhere from 2x to 100x as fast, or more robust, or easier to maintain, or better monitored. This was much-needed maintenance, and puts the game in a much better place moving forward.

It may not sound like the most relevant thing to gameplay, but it directly bears on our plans. For instance, it's difficult for us to make major changes to large-scale gameplay (say, economics or mjoar nation-level AI) without effective analytics on the results, and our analytics system was aged and not really up to the task, so that needed a serious upgrade.

Similarly, we've been doing capacity tests on how well NPCs can scale on a given (single) CPU of the server back-end cluster, which clarifies for us exactly how far we can try to "push" things in a Universe Redux and other gameplay updates that directly impact on the number and distribution of NPCs.

Last night's addition of some new Pirates was a quick thing to hopefully a little content that people might gather around on Saturday afternoons (or evenings, European time), as people had been asking for more Unaligned-Pirate related content. We do have a lot more complex plans for the Pirates, but we only had a small window to try and add something new.

As always, thanks for your patience and support everyone, and have a great weekend!

Database Maintenance

The game will be going down this evening, 10/9, for a period of database maintenance and upgrades.

The maintenance window will begin at 9pm Central, and end at 1am Central. Within that time, the game should only be offline for less than an hour. If all goes well, perhaps as little as half an hour. Any outage should be during the scheduled window.

The upgrades will make the database perform better, be more robust against issues, and be easier for us to maintain. It will also be able to support a larger concurrent player count.

Thanks for your patience and support, as always.