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Post news RSS APB Development Blog 12/02 Full

Chronojam: I'd like to apologize on behalf of the team and myself for the lateness with this one; we ran into a little bit of trouble I thought wouldn't delay us that bad, but apparently the issues compounded themselves and I made the call to wait it out so we could show you what we're

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Chronojam: I'd like to apologize on behalf of the team and myself for the lateness with this one; we ran into a little bit of trouble I thought wouldn't delay us that bad, but apparently the issues compounded themselves and I made the call to wait it out so we could show you what we're talking about, rather than just using words. Because you all love pictures right?

Pull up a chair, and ol' Chronojam will talk you through not only the latest and greatest in the line of graphics technology we're putting in there to make this old engine look fresh, and also a plethora of tiny design changes we're sticking in to bring that RA feel and balance and correct some trouble spots we've noticed. I'll make the wait worth it.

The Sidebar

The sidebar, the classic staple of every real Command & Conquer game. The icon of the early days, full of icons from the early days, that you'd click to produce your desired unit (which probably was an icon of the early days in and of itself). Something I was secretly plotting to implement with our coders before I even eventually mentioned it to Aircraftkiller (I'm shifty sometimes) at the relative eve of his departure. Something that we now have.

Purchase terminals were a great idea and all, but really lacked the style and flair that we wanted and really, to me, had the wrong feeling. The layout forced us into displaying icons we had no use for, giving it that "this is just a mod" feeling we've been working on obliterating. "Under construction." "Unavailable." Yeah, to hell with that. We were left with a blank slot, too, that was reserved for superweapon beacons but was made obsolete with the introduction of Neosaber's brilliant a-bomb silo logic. And let's not even get into refills, because refill whoring has created some pretty epic in-game flamefests as we all know-- this topic needs no elaboration.

Sidebar Preview

Venompawz began the texture work on the top metal frame area at the end of the summer before classes began again, and I took up the job doing the grid-style background. Originally, the top area where the Soviet flag is displayed was a lot larger; however, due to size constraints that we cannot circumvent without access to the source code (everything tried fails), we're forced to rethink the shape into a rectangular area. Things were delayed a bit, but I eventually began doing the metal side area and bottom, and the other day I quickly whipped up some example buttons to control the functional scrolling that will allow us to fit every purchaseable unit into the sidebar.

Compare that to the old PT model that forced us into having blank spaces in some locations, and not enough spaces in others! This also eliminates the need for the fenced area around the helipads and the mounted unit-specific PTCs that were requried for the helipad, naval yard, and sub pen. Everything, including the refill option, will fit in the independent scrolling sections. Because we do not allow for building construction, vehicles and infantry take up the two columns, with refill always on top of the infantry column.

Oh, about the refill option... we are limiting it by imposing a delay between refills. This should not affect the performance of units such as Tanya or the Engineers as they will not need to constantly refill their C4 while in the base. However, it will eliminate a massive point of contention for players: players can no longer simply camp a purchase terminal and remain virtually immune to harm, which includes flamethrowers using the refill option to prevent their own death while working well inside their minimum range in a building. By the way, commiting suicide, or killing yourself, will not reset the timer. You can't buy-refill-suicide, buy-refill-suicide. Sorry, lamers.

The up/down arrow buttons were done quickly the other day, so they're a poor representation of what the final ones will be like. I know they look rather cartoony especially with the thick black border, it will NOT be like that in the end. Also, Venompawz is going to refine my rather poor (in my eyes) metal frame to make it more like what her original metal up top was like. It's my first texture work for this kind of engine, so nobody was expecting a miracle (I'm not Venompawz after all). A few other miscellaneous changes will be made. In the future, when multiple power plants per map are taken into consideration, we may add in the glass "thermometer" power meter in addition. I was going to add it for now anyways, but it looked out of place.

Something else I forgot to mention: We can also pull units off each list, or conversely, add them on if we really wanted to. So if a map features a tech center, and you blow it up on the Allies, we can tear Tanya off the list. When the Sub Pen dies, all the Subs pull off the list.

Now, I know somebody's going to try to find a problem with this. Some jerk is going to realize that the old PCT menu also let you review the chat, although crappily so in a way reminescent of the old MSN where it would scroll down and make you lose your place in this stupid tiny box whenever ANY message came. Don't worry.

There is a better way. Oh, and client chat logging is a selectable option now, you can toggle it on and off if you don't want to save what everybody said last match for post-game LOLs or to complement a good war story you're sharing in our IRC channel.

Ingame Chat Test

Menus Revisited

It looks kinda lame to have all that old Renegade leftovers cluttering things up, and those lame red buttons. Okay, I'll be honest with you-- I haven't seen that red in quite some time, because we got that all cleared up. Have a peek at the options menu for the multiplayer game hosting function. Looks a lot prettier than what you've got right now, doesn't it? That old stuff really killed the mood, if you ask me, and this is a lot easier on the eyes and just straight-up feels better.

Menu Preview

Don't worry, we know some people might not want to run the awesome new graphical features even if they can support it, out of concern for frame rate, the principle of the thing, or whatever the hell excuse they might come up with (including of course, some rare incompatibility). Also, we know that a lot of what we are adding will require custom keybinds, so you can map a key to your Vehicle Sell ability (available at service depots) or for your Show Sidebar function.. and all the other fancy stuff we're putting it. In the past, messing with keybinds was a messy affair, but we've got all that covered. And hey, who can remember that stupid console command for changing between TGA and PNG screenshots anyways?!

BHS Options

Now, you don't have to worry. We got your back, bro.

Unit Limits and Balance

Playing with the Numbers

No, we're not going to limit the Tanyas and Volkovs -- maybe something else, but not those two. At least, it sure doesn't look like we'll need to, with the changes that have been made. However, we will be changing the way that unit limits are handled. In order to accommodate the larger number of players and larger, open areas that A Path Beyond has when compared to Renegade, we realize that more vehicles are needed.

As you might expect, naval units will have their own limit to how many you can have, and terrestrial ground vehicles will have a limit that operates similar to what you'd expect to find. Helicopters might be limited a bit more, we'll have to see how that goes. There has been some talk of giving Allies/Soviets different base unit limits, an idea that prompted me to plan a more massive closed-beta test than before-- the driving force behind that "Who wants to be a beta tester?" news post I made a while back. I haven't forgotten you guys, don't worry.

Basically, the proposal is that the Allies' weaker armored forces will balance against the Soviets by having (first of all) the ability to deploy a larger number of vehicles, and sooner (as early as the first ore dump). Say, you might have ten Light Tanks on the field to help keep tabs on the Soviet's potential V2 rush, but by no means are we ever going to give the Soviets the ability to send out ten V2s! However, the Soviets will retain their heavy-hitters without much of a nerf, potentially with a slight boost to some of their tanks.

Air power balancing is a concern that also came up. The Soviets were supposed to have a superior air force, and that's really not the case in the current version. Longbows are incredible fast-strike units, and are pretty good at laying out that damage-per-second in a painful fashion then getting the hell out. They do require the majority of their shots (or in some cases, all) to down an enemy chopper, however. The HIND is a pretty solid unit, ridiculously effective at murdering almost every Allied soldier save for the Rocket Soldier which poses a threat. We're going to give the Ranger and APC (basically, bullet using units) a better chance at squaring off with any low-flying HINDs that try to swoop in for easy kills.

To make up for their slow speed and relatively low damage output speed, we can give the Soviets a bonus the number of HINDs they can deploy, and potentially drop the limit of Longbows. Suppose we only allowed, for example, six Longbows but maybe ten HINDs and transport helicopters total; this will obviously allow the Soviets to also field eight HINDs and have them lead the way for a pair of Transport Helicopters instead!

This might seem a bit unfair, but keep in mind the recycle time on a Longbow strike due to their speed; and also keep in mind that the rocket soldier in 994 has a superior anti-air secondary that has strong range, decent tracking odds, a very very high velocity, and can down a HIND in perhaps five or six shots. This, along with the fact that bullets in general will hurt HINDs more, should help keep HINDs in check, while letting the HIND forces cover more airspace despite their slow nature.

New unit class: Support Vehicles

Who likes ore trucks? Who likes minelayers? We know that tons of you are gonna have fun playing around and pissing off the Soviets with the MGG so we won't even ask that question...

It's a damn shame though that you see players so often neglecting to buy an ore truck lest they weaken the overall unit composition of their team, and often, a team is seen destroying their own ore trucks in order to make space on the unit roster. Minelayers, as awesome as they are (just ask Cat 5) likewise limit your relative combat strength, despite fulfilling an important player-maintainted base defense role. You can't simply leave your layer at the service depot and grab a tank, or suddenly your team is down a manabled combat unit! Considering that the Soviet tank force won't be quite as large as the Allied, this means there's reason for every Soviet to cling to his Heavy Tank and never ever think about mining, right?

Wrong. All minelayers, ore trucks, and mobile gap generators -- the standard noncombat trio of ground units -- will count as Support Vehicles. Supply Trucks, where they appear as a cheap Soviet infantry transport, might also fit into this category. Every team, in addition to their standard land force, will be able to field an additional three support vehicles. This will encourage players to help out the team in a more passive role without worrying about trading team offensive vehicle capability for utility. Nobody will need to blow a valuable 1400 ore truck just to make more room for the rush that it helped fund in the first place, and it will be okay to leave your minelayer aside and grab a tank to help defend your base after reinforcing your perimeter.

By the way, while you're all thanking WhiteDragon and the rest of our scripting legends for making a lot of this possible when once it was deemed impossible and putting up with Chronojam's demands in general, keep in mind that we can arbitrarily cap production of a certain unit. No 10-Strong Demo Truck Rushes thank you very much! We can --with full compatibility with the rest of our unit limit system-- keep that capped at perhaps four.

The Tally

Ground Forces: 8 10
Support Units: 3 3
Naval Force: 8 8
Air Force: 10 6

New Buildings

This is a much smaller item than the above ones. But as you must have assumed, we are going to deploy new buildings, however it won't be for 994. In the version after, however, new buildings modeled most likely by none other than Sir Phoenixx himself will be make an appearance. Many users have reported problems with the current buildings that we have since come up with fixes for or devised solutions for.

  • The glass transparency issues are fixable, so looking out one window and into another (or notably, at the sea) will not cause layering issues
  • We know you hate those War Factory elevators, we hate them too! The fact they go right through the pipes and are so narrow is an obvious problem; this will be remedied
  • Ladders will be fixed as of 994's release for all implementations. This allows us to add external roof access, internal catwalks access, and the like. Not only in buildings, but map-wide, without worrying about vehicles becoming stuck or aircraft freezing in the air above.
  • Some buildings had poor PT placement, such as the Construction Yard
  • Some buildings had reported collision/damage issues, such as the service depot (fixed) and radar dome (fixed server-side currently)
  • All buildings will need new purchase zone implementation to handle the sidebar
  • All buildings will need new spy interface locations added to handle new spy logic
  • Refineries and ore silos will require a terminal for thieves (now a usable, potentially devastating unit) to access
  • Certain areas caused vehicles to become stuck, and narrow areas with many decorations caused players to stick to walls as they passed; we now have fixes for wall-lag (thanks to Black Intel, creators of the ladders fix)
  • New buildings can feature the assorted random props we've had made, to help liven them up and make them less identical map-to-map
  • A-Bomb silos will be updated to make it more obvious when the weapons is ready
  • New buildings can be planned specifically to make use of normal mapping, and special lighting effects including bloom effects
  • New buildings can be planned specifically to incorporate destruction animations that involve whole sections of the structure being rendered inaccessible, but opening up defensive opportunities for infantrymen using the building as cover

This and that kind of thing, you know? Yeah, I want to have buildings that can be killed in a dramatic way; the example I like to use is having a whole "wing" of the refinery collapse, and its stacks fall over. For the barracks, the roofs can fall in and the walls blast out in back. Of course, this means we also will have to adjust the purchase zones and spawn points for them when it happens. But hey, why not? Also, I was thinking the buildings could be destroyed in a such a way as to let the defenders use them for effective cover against the attacks, sorta garrisoning the ruins.

What was that about special lighting?

Yeah, you've seen some of the fancy shaders and heard us talking about how cool they are. But really? It will let us greatly enhance how the game looks and feels, especially for users with better video cards that support Shaders 2.0. Don't worry, we'll have some fallbacks for several effects to that older cards can not miss out. We can potentially replace a lot of the old effects with shaders-based effects, including the underwater effect, a new nuke flash, redo the water to make those old flat planes have visible rolling waves with shiney surfaces (all without much effort by the mapper), and potentially even the fog effects for weather, render distance, and that legendarily irritating Allied Gap Generator technology.

Did we mention the bloom lighting? That's what Saberhawk and Jonwil have been ironing some bugs out of, which caused some delays. But seriously it's WAY better to see the stuff than just hear me try to describe how cool it looks to see the light from the sun highlighting the snowy clouds of North by Northwest.

North by Northwest (New Lighting)

This is an artist's interpretation of how it will look once it's done. Actually, I'm just kidding. That's how it looks in game as you're playing.

More examples:

Barracks (New Lighting)Flame effect Woods Today (New Lighting)
MAD Tank Explosion (New Lighting)Tesla effect (New Lighting)A Path Beyond (New Lighting)

And of course... the nuke.

Nuclear Explosion 1 (New Lighting)Nuclear Explosion 2 (New Lighting)Nuclear Explosion 3 (New Lighting)
Nuclear Explosion 4 (New Lighting)Nuclear Explosion 5 (New Lighting)

Radar Map

Is there really a lot to say here? We'll have rotating radar maps and all that fancy jazz. As for completely redesigning the rest of the gui, that's gonna take the backburner for now as we work on things that are a bit more exciting. Trust me, you'll thank us if you haven't already. Here is an shot of it in Renegade. Jonwil hopes to whip up some very fancy code later that will save a lot of effort on the part of the mapmaker, so they won't need to manually save an overhead texture of their map.

Assorted Defense Balancing

There's a bit more floating around inside the dev team's heads right now. We're working on a few other balance issues than the ones I mentioned earlier; including regarding the tesla coil's balancing, to allow it to be more easily overcome. It is, after all, just a base defense structure and is equivalent in a way to a set of turrets (although a required kill for proper game completion and an Allied win). It'll be changed to reflect that, and make medium tank assaults directly on the coil more effective and give the Soviets less of a sit-back do-nothing attitude when it comes to base defense.

Additionally, we are considering a rework of how the engineers and technicians work. Which reminds me actually, I might want to work on their weapons later; I'm trying my hand at doing this fancy texturing work, and though it's not that good, it's fun to try. But I digress. As you know, an engineer can, as it stands right now, heal a building around a fourth of the way externally-- or from any internal spawn point immediately upon awakening inside a building under attack. We're looking to change that a bit, by removing this ability. This has led to some irritating and gameplay-undermining situations, where a player with a lot of cash simply can rapid-fire rebuy an engineer and fully heal it over and over even when nowhere near the MCT.

However, a poor player using his final credits to save a dying building or valiantly disarm a flare has often been met with a sudden feeling of tragedy and despair, as lag or computer voodoo cause his beam to miss. And don't forget that pang of frustration that occurs when the enemy simply manages to stand in the damn way, wasting your 500 credits and probably killing you immediately after laughing at your expense. We're considering, therefore, giving the engineer the ability to wave his wrench around in a magical fashion and immediately cure the problem, as long as he's close to the source. In other words? Area-of-effect heal weapon, single use only. You'll have to be near the MCT to do any healing at all, but in a pinch, you can leap into the melee of soldiers hammering your MCT and with but a click do your job and heroically save the building.

Also, this will let a single engineer disarm multiple C4 charges at once (an indirect nerf to Tanya, as it were). Plus, it should help the whole "OMG HOW DID I MISS THE FLARE" issue that crops up from time to time, when a click that was off by 2 pixels or 3 milliseconds spells doom for an entire team. As long as you can get to that flare before the enemy sniper pegs you, you'll be able to once again save the day without worrying about lining up a shot on that tiny little target. One problem: Buildings/MCTs don't like dealing with area-of-effect damage. So we might keep the technician with his normal line-of-sight weapon for that fact alone, but it'd be very cool to change the engineers as suggested. Let me know what you all think.

Uh, maps?

Also, I've been watching the community fan map scene closely; I highly encourage anybody willing to give it a go, to try their hand at making a map. There's a ton of tutorials and helpful people, and it's great to see the fans willing to try to make something fun for the others to all share. I, for one, love seeing the development of the new fanmaps and always take a chance to try them out myself. In fact, I've got my eye on a couple of the maps and one of the mappers in particular.

Who knows, maybe it's time for a staff addition, should he accept. 994 stands to have a ton of great maps in it, but the more, the merrier. Tweekbee and Bigwig could use some help, as we have to make many fixes to many existing maps, and also there are a ton of maps in varying stages of completion that need finalization before they can go in. Also, upon the "next version's" completion, we will have needed to finely tune the maps to accommodate the slightly-larger buildings.

I think it's safe to say that you can thank me for waiting on this. Words cannot describe adequately enough some of what we're managing to pull off. You want a REAL shocker? Go install Renegade fresh and give it a play through. Join a random server, and see what it's really like. Then get your ass back here and realize it's all been worth it. Hang on, folks, because we're about to take you for a ride, and you'll ask yourself if this really is just a simple mod... or something a bit more exciting.

Seriously, give the coders all a hand, thanks to their clever implementations of what I'll admit have been some pretty out-there ideas myself and the rest of the team have had, we've been able to pull of a lot of thing that never should have been possible with the base game. Then give the rest of the team a hand, and the moderators while you're at it; and of course, the internal testing team and the loyal fans who help us spot trouble areas and yes, play the game and give us the reasons to keep on truckin'. Hang on harder, though, guys... there's always more to come.

I'll see about whipping up some new sidebar icons, getting you some more shots of this stuff in action in APB, and then working on another new graphical feature we're gonna put in. And let's all wish for Neosaber to have some better luck with his health, the poor guy's been out of commission with a series of colds lately

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