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Letter From Lockdown

Over the last few weeks we’ve had people asking “How has the Coronavirus affected development on City of Titans?” Overall, we’re happy to say that the pandemic has had very little direct impact on development. Since we’re already a volunteer group working remotely, we don’t have to worry about the problems of closing down a physical office space, but there have been some unexpected side effects.

Like many people around the world, some members of our development team have brought their real life jobs home with them. Working from home comes with it’s own set of challenges that vary by business. Our developers who are educators, for example, have had to devote extra time to setting up lesson plans, coursework packages and, in some cases, conducting real time lessons.

Because schools have closed and converted to online learning, our developers who have children are also faced with the daunting task of keeping them educated, as well as entertained and happy. Finding spare time to work on game development becomes a bit more challenging when the kids can (and will) find ways to take up that time.

Internet access and broadband speeds have become another challenge. You may have heard that streaming video and other online services have had to put limits on their data to meet the increased demand. Since our developers are spread out over several countries, we have seen a slowdown in our ability to share files. Projects take a little longer to move to and from shared servers, development tools that rely on internet resources take a little longer to use, and even the services we use for communication have all been affected. And, of course, when you and your spouse both work from home, bandwidth suddenly becomes even more limited - if you’re shuffling a few gigabytes of art, they’re going to have problems working at their remote desktop.

Some of our development team work in essential services, and have discovered that the spare time they could have devoted to game development is needed more in the real world. In many different ways, they are fighting to save people, and we thank all of our team members who are working hard during this crisis.

Some of our team find themselves either laid off, or out of work entirely. Although this may leave a few with more time to spend on game development, many others are busy trying to find whatever paying work they can. Unfortunately, since Missing Worlds Media doesn’t yet have the financial resources that an established game company possesses, there isn’t much we can do to make this easier for them.

Even with all that, the game continues to move forward. Here are just a few of the projects that we are working on right now:

The Unreal Engine 4.24

Several updates to the Unreal 4 engine were released in 2019. We held off applying those until the latest, version 4.24, was released last December. Each update brought small but important changes to the game engine, but 4.24 added specific improvements to issues that needed addressing, and brought some new features that we believe will make the game more interesting.

Back in version 4.20, Epic introduced a replacement to the Unreal Visual FX system. Called Niagara, it was introduced as an eventual replacement for the original system, Cascade. 4.24 has finalized this transition, retiring the older system. This did force us to change several systems in order to use Niagara to generate effects, but with the added features within Niagara, future enhancement has been simplified across our various subsystems.

Niagara has also enabled us to add the new physics engine, titled the Chaos system, which was introduced in v4.23. The Chaos system gives the engine the ability to handle more realistic physics. While we don’t have any specific plans to take advantage of Chaos’ more advanced features at launch, it does give us another useful tool for future growth.

The 4.24 update also brings with it the Beta for Landscape Nondestructive Editing, This feature includes Landscape Edit Layers, Landscape Blueprint Brushes, and Landmass Plugins that allow our map designers to work together more easily and efficiently. This will also let us have multiple users working together on projects, without accidentally overwriting each other’s work.

Another improvement is to the Timesynth coding, which allows for simplified and precise connecting and queuing of audio. New additions to this are the Audio Synesthesia and Audio Stream Caching systems. Synesthesia allows the engine to receive timing data from gameplay. For example: gameplay events could trigger a particular piece of music, (say a particular NPC appears on screen), or the music could trigger a specific special effect. It will take some experimentation to find out what we’ll be able to do with this, but it’s another tool that we’ll have for the future. Audio Stream Caching gives the engine the ability to compress and reference all sound items without holding them in memory. It is separated in chunks and only referenced when necessary. This will improve processing speed and decrease the amount of memory needed for gameplay.

One area we have not discussed much in detail are third party plugins we are using, so we thought we’d take the opportunity to discuss one we adopted several years ago, which has proven to be a very useful tool for constructing maps.

Dungeon Architect

This plugin allows for the rapid construction of mission maps using preset rules. By setting a few parameters, we can construct 90% of a mission map within minutes, which is very useful when you do not have the manpower a major studio does.

Plugins are an area where updates are important to keep in mind. For example, as of 4.24, the creator for Dungeon Architect dropped support for 4.21 due to his migrating of key elements to systems introduced in 4.22. Since Dungeon Architect is an essential component that we’ve been using since it’s inception, it was very important for us to migrate to a newer version before it updated. And this is true with other related tools and plugins, such as Prefab and Snapbuilder as well. Keeping up with their revisions is as much a challenge as migrating our own work.

Most of what we’ve just discussed is work that needs to be done to build a solid foundation for the rest of the game. We’re not able to show you much of what all that means until we can connect all the pieces together, but when we’re able to show you, we will.

The world is in a difficult place right now. Focusing on ourselves, our families and our communities has become the most important goal for everyone. Still, our team at Missing Worlds Media will continue to move forward, will continue to work, and will continue building the City for all of you who continue to believe in us and support us. Together we are all Titans.

Stay Safe, everyone.

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