Saturday, 13 January 2018

Dead Frontier 2: January Progress Update

Unfortunately I don't have a whole lot of meaningful progress to report today. The normal cocktail of the kids being off school for the holidays, Christmas gatherings, a bout of the flu and the all our company & personal accounts being due in January basically left me with no where near as much time to work on DF2 as I had planned. Although I have made progress in many areas, I haven't gotten to the stage where I feel comfortable enough to mark them off my checklist as "done". I can tell you that I am currently working on the noticeboard/mission system and I hope to have it totally complete before the end of this month.

Still as time rolls on I have to admit that the April 21st launch date is starting to look a little shaky. I still have a lot of features to implement and even once those are all finished, there will still be a lot of work to do in terms of setting up the final server machines, load testing, play-testing, balancing and marketing. The way I see it there are a few possible options:

Option A
I launch publicly on April 21st no matter what, as "Early Access". Any features that are missing at this time will have to be implemented post release. I believe this is easily possible, but means that the initial game will have less to do. It also means that it will take a lot longer for the final features to be implemented, as I will no doubt get sidetracked with other issues (cheating, abuse, balancing, bugs etc). Some early players may lose interest too quickly and leave before they see the game in it's final form.

Option B
I launch the closed beta on April 21st, inviting a good chunk of people (perhaps 2000?) but not everyone. This is similar in some ways to Option A, but because it's not a huge amount of people there should be less distracting issues to sort out. I should be able to get the final features done much quicker, whilst also learning some valuable information about the game. Downside is many people will still be unhappy as they have to wait. In addition videos/streams of early bugs and issues may cause people to lose interest in the game before they even get to try it.

Option C
Delay the release until it's properly done. This should in theory give us the best game possible in the shortest amount of time. My current thinking is that an extra 2 months would be more than enough. However even this cannot be guaranteed and I am aware that shorter deadlines do make me more focused. I definitely don't want to become the next Star Citizen, delaying the release for a year or more etc.

I honestly haven't decided either way yet. What do you guys think? I'd be very interested to hear what you all think in the comments section. As normal I'll be keeping a close eye on these for the first few days and will do my best to reply to as many of them as possible.

So this post isn't just a bunch of boring, ugly words: behold! Shiny concept art & new logo!



If you'd like to stay up to date with DF2 developments, please sign up to the mailing list, Like us on Facebook, Follow us on Twitter, and subscribe to the Reddit forum (probably the best place to ask questions). All those lovely links can be found here: http://deadfrontier2.com :)

Thanks for reading!
-Neil









Saturday, 9 December 2017

Dead Frontier 2: News & Early Sceenshots

A Big Thank You
Before I begin I want to say that since we announced Dead Frontier 2 we've had a hugely positive response. Everyone seems so excited about the new game and it's given me a huge boost in morale. I'm now more determined than ever to make this game the best it can possibly be.

I want to say a big thank you to everyone who read our announcement, and especially to those who took the time to leave comments. It really means a lot to me that the community is still behind us, even after all these years.

Interior Areas
So ever since I announced DF2 I've gotten my head down and started grinding away at getting our interior areas ready. I'm pleased to say that after roughly 6 weeks these are now finished, save a few minor bugs. We have a total of 13 building types, and each of these can have literally trillions of possible layouts (actually a lot more than that, but my brain doesn't understand numbers any bigger than this!)

Dead Frontier 2 does not make used of *any* fixed scenes, absolutely everything you see is generated by the computer. We have a few reasons for doing this, but the main ones are:

  1. Fixed areas are costly in terms of time/money to create, especially if you want a large world. For a small team like us, it could add literally years of work.
  2. It's easier to expand the game world with random generation, making updates easier.
  3. Playing the exact same layouts over and over will get boring, regenerating them every so often helps make the game feel fresh and exciting.


This is very similar to how the old Dead Frontier 2D used to work. Essentially we give the computer a set of walls, doors, windows, furniture and decorations, and then let it randomly place them based on certain predefined parameters. So for example, a bathroom would likely have tiled walls, tiled floor, 1 toilet, 1 bath, 1 sink, and then a few optional bits and bobs like toothpaste, toothbrushes, hair products, carpets. We then chain these rooms together depending on the building type. For example a house will likely start with an entrance hallway, that can then link to a living room, a kitchen, a dining room. Going upstairs will usually have bedrooms and bathrooms. Using parameters like this you can get quite realistic results, without having to physically build anything yourself.

The downside of this system is that is does take quite a bit of time to setup all the different furniture, decoration and wall types. From there defining how each building will be laid out can also take quite a while. There is also the issue of testing and tweaking. Every so often the computer will generate something that just looks wrong, so you have to keep adding extra conditions to help prevent those situations. A lot of you may remember things like this happening in DF2D. Luckily I've put a lot more work into this version, and the result is miles better than we had back then.

I figured I'd give a list of tasks that I have completed, and those that are still being worked on in each post so you can get an idea of how development is going:

Complete:

  • Looting
  • Inventory & Items System
  • Trading
  • Menus
  • Account System
  • Character Creation
  • Skill System
  • Leveling System
  • Weapon System
  • Enemy System
  • Interior Generation System
  • Final Exterior Areas
  • Final Interior Areas
  • Puzzle System
  • NPCs
  • Player Avatars (programming complete but waiting on some art to finish)
  • Multiplayer
  • Basic Vehicles
  • Security



TODO:

  • General Gameplay Improvements (more blood/gore, more interesting/rewarding combat)
  • Advanced Enemy System (ambushes, special attacks etc)
  • Advanced NPCs
  • Advanced Vehicles
  • Bosses
  • Noticeboard/Missions
  • Outpost Attacks
  • Clan & Friend Systems
  • Leaderboards & Competitions
  • Music/Atmosphere System
  • Final Cosmetics System
  • DF1 > DF2 name reservation and transfer system
  • Steam Integration
  • In-game purchasing
  • Bug fixes :)
  • Final UI Skin
  • Final Item Definitions
  • Final Skill Definitions
  • Final Map Definitions
  • Final Weapon Definitions & Setup
  • Final Enemy Definitions & Setup (waiting on some art)
  • Final Outposts


The list as it stands makes it look like I've still got tons to do, and will never be finished in time. But in reality most of the tasks in the "complete" section were very big & complex, whereas most of the TODO list are much shorter tasks. A lot of ground work has already been done to make implementing these final features fairly quick. Still, I admit I may be cutting things close, and it is *possible* that some of the final features will be missing at launch.

Early Screenshots
This morning I went ahead and compiled a bunch of game-play screenshots, showing off some of the new areas. Note that most of these are missing enemies. This is because I am currently in the process of setting up the final enemy models (before we just had placeholders). I do have one type finished though, which is the one you can see below :)









If you'd like to stay up to date with DF2 developments, please sign up to the mailing list, Like us on Facebook, Follow us on Twitter, and subscribe to the Reddit forum (probably the best place to ask questions). All those lovely links can be found here: http://deadfrontier2.com :)

Have a Great Christmas and Happy New Year!

I'll have more news for you in early January. Thanks for reading!


Sunday, 29 October 2017

The Big Announcement

The day that you thought we'd put off forever has finally arrived – it's time for the big announcement!

With our 10th anniversary fast approaching, we've decided it's time to finally breath new life into Dead Frontier. I'm not going to lie, we're both excited and terrified to make this announcement as we're taking the game in a totally new direction. It's an opportunity to fix all our past mistakes and implement a decade's worth of feedback from community - but as with any birth, we expect a bit of pain (and perhaps a little tearing) along the way.

Without further ado, we're proud to announce: DEAD FRONTIER 2  (deadfrontier2.com)

Roughly a year ago we came to the realisation that the only way to solve all our issues, bring the Dead Frontier franchise up to date, and once again grow our player base was to make a totally new game. And that's exactly what we've done.

I'm excited to say that Dead Frontier 2 is nearing completion, and will have the following features on launch:

  • An all in one game client, nothing runs in the browser
  • No more P2W. Cosmetic and utility upgrades only (and still free to play)
  • A brand new 4-player multiplayer system that focuses on player experience above all else. No more glitched zombies!
  • A lobby system, making it easy to to find and create game instances
  • A totally new skill system, giving the player a meaningful way to improve their character with every level up
  • Complex stats system giving almost endless build variety
  • A more immersive over-the-shoulder camera angle
  • Modern current gen graphics
  • Procedural game world that re-generates daily, giving a far more replayable experience
  • Realistic post-apocalyptic trading system with multiple markets, currencies and taxes
  • Notice board for missions
  • Upgradeable vehicles
  • Upgradeable weapons
  • Crafting system
  • True survival horror (not just mindless action!)
If you're at all interested in DF2, please visit deadfrontier2.com and sign up to the newsletter and/or follow the new Facebook/Twitter pages to be kept up to date with developments. I will of course be posting more information, screenshots, videos etc as time goes on, and we get closer to that April 2018 launch date.

FAQ

What will happen to Dead Frontier 1?

DF1 is not going anywhere, and I'll be keeping it alive pretty much forever. I'll keep on top of patching bugs and security issues and I may even throw in the odd update or two. I've even started chatting to various companies who can convert all the flash elements to HTML 5, thus giving DF1 some more longevity. I'm well aware that DF holds a special, nostalgic place in many of your hearts, and if anything else it would simply be a bad business decision to let it die. All your characters and items will be available for as long as you want them.

Can I reserve my DF1 account/clan name in DF2?

Yes. We all add a system in DF1 which will allow you to reserve your name before the launch. The same will go for clan names, with the owners reserving them.


Can I transfer my DF1 characters/items to DF2?

Unfortunately there is no way to transfer characters and items from DF1 to DF2, because their systems are very different. However we do understand that some of you might be upset that the characters you have invested time (or maybe money) into will be unable to follow you into the new game. With that in mind we have devised a system of rewards in DF2 for DF1 players.

We are currently preparing a bunch of unique cosmetic items to be given as rewards to players owning DF1 characters.  There will be a reward for having reached each of the following milestones in DF1:

- Being level 20 or higher
- Being level 50 or higher
- Being level 100 or higher
- Being level 200 or higher
- Being level 325
- Owning a UWC or WC
- Owning a UGAU or GAU
- Owning a VG
- Owning any of the dusk items

In addition, any RL money that anyone spends/has spent on DF1 from the start of 2017, to the full release of DF2 (probably April 2018) will be transferable to the new game. The RL money value of what you get will be matched precisely.

For example, let's say you bought 10,000 credits this year, and bought a VG with them. Not only do you keep the VG in DF1, you will also get a unique cosmetic item in DF2 AND $240 worth of credits in DF2 as well.

Why only cosmetic rewards? Can't we have something powerful in DF2?

DF2 is a strictly non Pay2Win title. If we allowed powerful paid items from DF1 into DF2, it would immediately lose it's status, and people would call the game P2W again. Unfortunately cosmetic upgrades are really the only thing we can grant without tainting the new game's reputation.

I have multiple DF accounts, can I still transfer everything?

Yes! You can apply rewards from multiple DF1 accounts to a single DF2 account. All credits and cosmetic items will be pooled together. If you end up multiple copies of the same reward, that will allow you to have the item on more than one DF2 character at the same time.

I am banned in DF1, can I play in DF 2?

Yes, we are not carrying over old bans to DF2. It's a totally clean slate so you're more than welcome to play the new game.

What are the minimum specs for DF2?

At this stage we do not have exact specs as we would need to do in-depth testing of the final game to determine this. But I can say that the current build runs fine on my 4 year old budget laptop. My goal is to have the graphics scale down low enough that everyone will be able to enjoy it.

Can you explain how X works in DF2 in detail?

More details will be released about the new game over the next few weeks/months, as well as screenshots and videos. There is a lot to cover (too much for this post) and there is some stuff we'd like to keep as a surprise until we are near release. Don't worry though, I can promise it'll be good :-)

Why didn't you just update the existing Dead Frontier? Wouldn't that be quicker/easier?

In a nutshell no, it was actually far easier to start work on a new game. Below is a full explanation (be warned, it's long!)

Back in 2007 I started work on Dead Frontier. I was 20 and had been running my little indie games business for about 4 years already. Whilst I could program (and had been since I was a little kid), I was entirely self-taught, and to be honest my code was an utter mess. Dead Frontier was my first real attempt an doing anything online, and my knowledge of client/server tech was literally zero. I didn't even know the basics of PHP and MySQL at that time. Effectively I made the game by installing some free forum software, hacking it to store some extra variables about each user, and then slapped some flash elements in various places. Job done! It wasn't exactly the game I was dreaming of making, but it was a good enough approximation.

Whilst it kind of worked, it was incredibly inefficient, slow and buggy. Over time my programming skills improved massively and with some help & guidance from Niosop I managed to improve the online side of things. However I never fully managed to unentangle the game from the forum software it was based upon, and even now DF is still running with various bits of ancient code that I had copy/pasted from the internet. Over the years my updates have effectively been band-aids, temporarily keeping things running, but never actually fixing the core problems. Fixing the core problems, would pretty much mean a complete rewrite of the server-side, something that I've honestly been too scared to attempt, for fear of breaking things and upsetting players. 

As anyone who works in the tech industry will know, applying updates to big, messy, badly designed code is an utter nightmare. Changing even small things can unexpectedly cause big problems. Generally I spend 20x more time fixing bugs and patching security holes than I do adding anything new to DF. 

The 3D rewrite of the inner city was actually an improvement in this area. It was much better designed than the 2D client, and made updates and fixes a lot easier for a while. However even that improved style of coding is still far below the standard I would be writing today. Also, in an attempt to prevent certain types of cheating, I introduced more and more complex security systems to the 3D client over time. Whilst these system did (and still do) prevent a lot of cheating, they are incredibly hard to manage. For example the last big round of 3D client updates had lots of bugs which triggered the security systems, leading people to be banned unfairly. Further updates to the client are likely to have the same, or worse problems.

Ever since Google Chrome announced that it would be droppping NPAPI (the tech that allows the IC to run in the browser) I realized that the clock was ticking for Dead Frontier. My initial response to that was simply to create the standalone client. However this was only ever going to be a temporary solution. The system of clicking through links to startup the game each time you visit the city is incredibly messy. I also knew that Flash was dying, and it wouldn't be long before it too was blocked in most browsers. 

I knew that the only real solution to this problem would be to have Dead Frontier running as a proper, all-in-one client. A single EXE that runs everything from the IC, the marketplace, the market, the forums; all in one app. However I must admit that when it came time to start on this project, I was immediately hit with a wave of depression. I was about to embark on a lot of hard work, but at the end of it all, after all the endless bugs and fixes, we'd still just have the same old Dead Frontier, built on top of the same buggy, badly designed server-side that we've always had. I forced myself to start work on it, but progress was incredibly slow and demoralizing.

As I worked on it, I began to realize there were a lot of other things I didn't like about Dead Frontier, beside the programming. Whilst I've always been proud of the game, I made some questionable design descisions. Such as:

1. Complicated and confusing food/drink/health/repair system
2. Dying in the outpost.
2. Weird/quirky controls (drag food to your mouth? lol)
3. Too much walking
4. Unbalanced high inflation economy
5. Too much grind
6. Short sighted stats system (lack of rewards for high levels)
7. Lack of build variety
8. Power creep 
9. Too much Pay2Win

And probably a whole bunch more I'm forgetting. 

I did plan to add more features to address these issues, but it felt like I was just sticking band-aids on again. It would be a huge upheavale to change the core design of the game enough to fix these problems. Some things (such as the economy) might be never actually be fixed, as it's hard to get rid of items/cash already in circulation. There is pretty no way to undo the "P2W" elements of DF1 at this stage either.

I was also very aware that DF looked incredibly dated, and our stats were showing that we quite literally were not attracting any new players anymore. New accounts are now just old players returning to see how things had (or had not) changed. So I began to think about improving the graphics, maybe launching an HD version of the game so that we could attract a new audience.

Then in late 2016, it suddenly hit me. Making all these changes was a huge and scary undertaking that would probably require several years to complete, and by that time I exepcted that the dwindling player base would already be gone. Not to mention we'd still be running on the same unstable roots. I realized that making a new game would actually be *a lot* easier than trying to drag the existing DF into the current gen of games.

For the first time in years, I actually felt excited about working on DF again. A new game would be a chance to get things "right", taking into account everything I've learned about game development over the last 10 years, whilst getting rid of the shackles of the old design and code. 

I really feel like making DF2 was the right choice, and I'm confident most of you guys will agree once you've seen it :-)

If you're at all interested in DF2, please visit deadfrontier2.com and sign up to the newsletter and/or follow the new Facebook/Twitter pages to be kept up to date with developments. I will of course be posting more information, screenshots, videos etc as time goes on, and we get closer to that April 2018 launch date.