We apologise for delaying this development update for so long, but we were all busy with Christmas preparations. Now Christmas has passed life may slowly return back to normal. We hope you all enjoyed Christmas Day and will also enjoy the holidays to come. Our Christmas present for you, our beloved community, is this month's development update and it’s quite a long one!
There is news on a new Neocron installer, news on the upcoming content and storyline updates, a short recap on the launch of the recent patch, as well as (what you have all eagerly waited for) news on the financial situation, as well as what we call: "Project Governance".
New Neocron Game Client Installer
We started working on a new Neocron Game Installer in late August in preparation for the release of R#175. Hopefully by the time you read this Dev Dairy entry, the new installer will be close to being released.
The aim of the new installer is to:
- Install the game without having to download a lot of patches
- Overcome some of the Windows Vista/7/8 User Access Control (UAC) issues caused by the original requirements of the Neocron Game Client
- Install the new prerequisites introduced with the release of Patch R#175
- Reduce the support overhead by addressing the above points
In the past members of the team have built InstallShield packages, the product used for the current installer, however due to the commercial nature of the product using that wasn't a realistic option. Instead we looked into a product called NSIS, which is Nullsoft’s free installer system. Having never used NSIS before setting up and creating a project provided a challenge to members of the team. Over the course of a week or two, we got the basics of the installer working. After patches 175 and 176 came out, we revisited and updated the scripts to include the DirectX9c and C++2010 runtimes, while adding some polish to the installer to give it more of a Neocron feel.
Overcoming the UAC issues that Windows 7/Vista presents was also a big a challenge. In the end we have had to change the default installation to be C:\Games\Neocron 2.2 while also giving the recommended option to run Neocron in Windows XP SP3 mode. This new recommended setting allows Neocron to write to the directories required and allows the game to play it's awesome music. We appreciate this isn't an ideal solution but this provides some of the discovered work-arounds directly to the Neocron Game Client installer, making the installation process better for our players and giving us the time we need to make changes to bring the game in line with best practice.
Once we're able to make those changes as the game gets patched and evolves, further new installation packages will also be released.
Storyline & Content
One of Neocron’s greatest assets is its setting and lore. In the past you will have experienced a number of events both GM and RP Character lead, coupled together with the Neocronicle which delivered this kind of content in a unique and engaging way. Over the last hand full of months preparation for the continuation of that experience has been progressing.
A new storyline is on the horizon.
At first we sat throwing huge ideas into the pile, thinking of extreme ways in which to change the gameworld, great sweeping changes happening over night to implement ideas we’d all long been nurturing. While those ideas are still in the pile, we’d first like to straighten some things out, put right some current content in a way which makes the game feel alive again. Most importantly we want to start small and build up over time, this means we can judge if we’re moving in the right direction.
We’d have liked to have the storyline moving by now but educating ourselves on how existing content and the associated tools work, together with the initial phase of brainstorming discussed above, has brought us to the Holiday Season. While we will be providing some fun events over the festivities, the first part of the new storyline will begin to show itself in the New Year. This first new ‘chapter’ of the storyline will include gradual changes to make the gameworld more interesting and to make certain content elements feel fresh once again.
On top of this the Neocronicle will be back in action, reporting on live events and filling the gaps between activities in game. You should start to see members of the newly formed RP Team in game soon, meaning we hope to see new Neocronicle content in the not too distant future.
Quite soon into the New Year we'll have a taster for you of what is to come in what we are calling Neocron: Powder Keg…
Release of Patch R#175/R#176
After all those years, finally a new patch has been released, addressing several of the more annoying issues of the past and upgrading some of the technologies used by Neocron. However although we tried to take as much precautions as possible, some things went terribly wrong.
As opposed to the previous patch (patches #169 to #174), we set up a dedicated public test server to try to thoroughly test the patch and get your feedback on it. Just before patching day everything was looking fine on Vedeena (PTS). The new database engine worked flawlessly at a first glance. There were no noticeable/severe problems reported with the new position updates. So we thought the patch was ready to go live. However, not long after pushing the patch to Titan, it turned out; it really wasn't ready to go live yet.
As long as there were only a few players playing, everything worked flawlessly and as expected on Titan. Nevertheless, we soon noticed several weird issues. The server started crashing unexpectedly, the CityCom became quite unresponsive/laggy and syncing as well basically everything began to act up as soon as the server got crowded. We did not notice those issues earlier, cause at max we had 30 people playing on Vedeena, consequently not putting enough load on the new database engine. We worked day and night to fix those problems and in the end, we luckily fixed quite a lot of the issues, at least all which were considered to be release blockers.
What have we learned from this patch? Quite allot! First and foremost: we need your support, more than ever. Our team is simply too small to identify all issues. We also learned that Murphy will always be with us and we should always be prepared for him, luckily we were. To combat the lack of stress testing, we are at the moment evaluating possibilities to make testing more interesting for you, so stay tuned.
Most of you will also be interested in what we planned for R#177. First and foremost, we want to fix the server crashes. In addition to that a few further tweaks to the interpolation/clipping are on the schedule which are currently being tested internally. Last but not least, we will... well, I will not reveal it yet you will see (and hopefully also test) it soon on Vedeena!
The most visible change that many will have already noticed, was a transition to the new "neocron-game.com" domain earlier this month. This move was necessary to provide us with the flexibility and velocity we need right now as we are, again, shifting and reorganizing major parts of our infrastructure behind the scenes. The overall goal is to boost stability and reliability of the services provided. Less time spent on keeping vital infrastructure from collapsing equals more time available to improve the small and big issues at hand.
We are happy to now have moved all web services to a dedicated new home. You may have noticed the forums being a tad more responsive now, but other than that we hope that the transition has not had any impact.
Another visible change is the main portal (neocron.com) having been replaced with a placeholder page. The "old" portal was still based on a CMS that has not received any updates for many years and as such has to be considered a ticking bomb. That's why the decision was made to not migrate the old portal to the new server, but move on to a new CMS instead. This is currently still work in progress, but we hope to be able to re-launch the portal soon™.
Project Governance & Financial Situation
The availability of Neocron for our community currently depends on the dedication of a few people. Apart from the countless hours (this is not a proverbial description) of work and sweat the entire Neocron Support Team has invested, some expenses of financial nature are involved with keeping Neocron afloat.
In the past number of months, this financial burden was taken care of by a few members of the Neocron Support Team, with Kirk Lenke compensating major accounts for server maintenance this month (thanks Kirk and also, thanks to the volunteers - you know who you are).
While this is much appreciated, it is clear that this is not a model that can be sustained in the long run. This is why we have now initiated a registered entity (non-profit organisation) to take care of the operating costs for Neocron. This means you'll soon have a chance to chip in and donate a few credits towards an open and transparent association. We will share more details on this venture once the association is fully accredited.
Your Neocron Support Team