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Blockade Runner (new engine being debugged!)
May 1, 2015 - [ZanMgt]Aaron

Blockade Runner has been going through a lot of developments internally, but a lot of it is either too boring to explain in detail or not worth your attention in a regular newsletter. We've been primarily running news updates through the main website, the forums, and the Twitter just to keep it all condensed and reduce the time in having to format posts, and so if you're looking for the latest info those are the places you want to check!


March 24, 2014 - [ZanMgt]Aaron

January represented the implementation of our new dynamic slope system, a new Founder's Club for our original supporters, and the release of the first build of the game since W71!

Tidbits from January Week 1

In Brief: Nathan's hard drive goes kaput, so we decide it's time we upgrade his dev PC (loads BR in a split second now!), Zack upgrades our version of SharpDX to latest dev committing, Gabe progresses through textfields despite a nasty cold, the "Founders Club" is added to the forums; accessible to those who purchased Blockade Runner before January 1st 2014. Zack and Nathan resolve an issue with entities disappearing due to 16-bit indexes on the GPU causing 3D surfaces to not draw, and Nathan gets his new slopes to render using our new moddable slope files.

Tidbits from January Week 2

In Brief: Nathan's next step on the slopes is straightening the tangents on the dynamic slopes, and otherwise continues fine tuning the process of making slopes. Gabe discontinued work towards IME keyboard support, and gets the visual portion of textfields for debugging. Michigan freezes over. Zack reduces loading time for BR significantly, fixed SharpDX having switched to right-hand coordinates borked our collisions, and among numerous physics and graphical issues also solves a problem where only single chunks would draw. Micah meanwhile experiments with "mothership" concepts.

We also re-order the way diffuse/specular/normal maps and glass will be modded in BR, Nathan begin a new DDS converter to convert bitmap images into DXT3's in-game, makes sure mirroring geometry will work, and by the end of the week prefabs are working in the game again!

Tidbits from January Week 3

In Brief: Over the weekend Gabe gets mouse selection for textfields done, remarks on how awesome it is to work with UI in BR now, and progresses with the Log-In screen. Nathan's on to the next stage of the dynamic slopes and makes sure slopes and their edges work with each direction and interior directions appropriately. Zack & Nathan resolve a myriad of rendering issues, including gradient shaders and backface culling z-fighting. VengantMjolnir becomes our first "Bounty Hunter" and solves an issue with our specular!

Tidbits from January Week 4

In Brief: Zack sets BR up with SmartAssembly, Gabe and Zack clear the old W71 UI code out entirely of MP since it'll need to be replaced, Gabriel condenses the unneeded UI to only the necessaries, fixes issues with clipping not functioning properly with scrollbars, fixes fonts, and generally cleans up the UI. Zack cleans up character physics to cut its CPU usage in half, fixes issues with Lidgren (problems we'd had since last year!), and re-factored W28 thruster code in the new engine, tracks down huge lag spikes, among other bug fixes. Nathan continues debug issues the dynamic slopes, correcting each direction one-at-a-time. Micah experiments with "hangar" visualization concepts in 3dsmax.

Tidbits from January Week 5

In Brief: Nathan uses a debug corner model to help finalize debug issues with the slopes, Gabe and Aaron work on prettifying parts of the new Login screen, Zack continues debugging issues with the physics in multiplayer. We test the new SmartAssembly error reporter, makes spotting user-submitted bugs much easier since it highlights where in the code the error came from. By the very end of January, the first release in 78 weeks was made available to Founder members! The first release is simply a test of the 2D pipeline, but represents a huge development milestone on our end!

Bullet Points for January

+ The first raw development build is released to Founders!
+ Founder's Club introduced to Forums
+ New dynamic slope system integrated
+ Normals and tangents aligned for new slope system

- All pipelines needs to be debugged for several months before 'gameplay'


In the previous month...
In December we'd finished off the voxel mesh / texture atlas upgrade and decided it'd be for the best if we lumped the dynamic slopes into the schedule before releasing to the Founders. This unfortunately meant that if we were to reach our deadline of "before the end of January 2014", it'd have to launch rough and without the time for polish (/things to do)!

Dynamic slopes
The dynamic slope system took Nathan most of the month to debug and correct for all graphical issues, but by the end of January it was ready to go and is now a powerful piece of BR's feature arsenal. To put it simply, the dynamic slopes allows us (and the community) to very easily add new types of slopes to the game. Need a chamfer edge? No problem. Need a reverse-double-twist pyramid? It can be done! There was a lot of work to make sure it'd operate 100% of the time and properly remove unnecessary polygons (a staple of voxel games), and are very happy with the results.

Founders Club
After being recommended by some folks on the forums, we've introduced the "Founder's Club" where we can keep the original community together, give back to those who supported us since the beginning, and not lose sight of those who helped us get where we are. Anyone who'd purchased BR before January 1st 2014 is eligible, and you can access the Founder's Board on the forums:

The first build is released to Founders!
Squeezing its way in (and barely making our target estimate from November), we make our first release since W71 to the Founders in the Founders Club! The new engine is still in a bubbling primitive state however, so our first build is just a (successful!) test of application dependencies and the log-in screen to make sure everything's working on other machines.

What's Next?

Now that we're able to release raw private builds to the Founder members, next month is continued debugging by the Founders of the engine's pipelines; 2D, 3D, UI (command buttons, scroll bars, etc). The plan for the next few months is to hit each of the game's pipelines one at a time until everything is running A-OK.

Stand by for February in Review!

To follow the daily development resource postings, head to the forum, sign up for the newsletter, follow the Twitter, or check out the Facebook page! We're also on the Dev Chat from 9:00am-5:00pm (EST) almost every day, so if you've got a question or comment fire away!

- Aaron

March 20, 2014 - [ZanMgt]Aaron

Finishing the voxel mesh/texture atlas system, beginning the new dynamic slopes system, and loads and loads of work in preparation in release during the cold month of December 2013!

Tidbits from December Week 1

In Brief: Nathan finishes his new dynamic shader system to allow us to externally pull shaders easy-peasy into BR. Zack adds some debug coloration effects to the server console window so we can spot specific messages in the log easier. Gabe repairs issues with the state manager for UI and animations, and for the first time in a long time Gabe's back on his rapid-fire TODO list (70 committings in a day!). By the end of the week Zack and Nathan get the new voxelmesh/textureatlas system functioning together, Zack refactors a bunch of outdated code, and after a looking at the schedule we re-plan for the first builds to be released in Q1 2014.

Tidbits from December Week 2

In Brief: Zack transitions BR out of the Jitter physics library into the BEPU physics library, while also switching us out of TortoiseSVN into Atlassian's SourceTree to make committing to the same source more conducive. Gabe adds serialization to many of the old UI options (laughing at his old code), integrates our fancy shmancy scrollbar into options menu and builds the Input Editor. Nathan begins worked on the all new dynamic slopes system - a major upgrade to how angles will be handled - but first has to re-write the SharpDX .OBJ loader so it better understands how we're using the geometry (mostly to understand weapon hardpoints and other 'special' data).

We also re-order the way diffuse/specular/normal maps and glass will be modded in BR, Nathan begin a new DDS converter to convert bitmap images into DXT3's in-game, makes sure mirroring geometry will work, and by the end of the week prefabs are working in the game again!

Tidbits from November Week 3

In Brief: Zack works on aligning specular and normals for the meshes (a change in .obj loading screwed up the tangents), as well as the different angles, Nathan and Aaron make more progress on slope system, Gabe combs through controls to make sure joystick, mouse, keyboard are working appropriately while also fixing resolution and mouse input issues. Silly mipmap problem mid-week turns out to be a matter of normal maps favoring directions at low mipmap levels.

Tidbits from December Week 4

In Brief: Big winter storm in Michigan knocks out our office's power, Gabe begins textfield cleanup (old out of date code), Zack finishes up aligning the normals and tangents on prefabs, Nathan has the new slopes to technically functioning but not yet drawing in-game. After a brief (but welcome) Christmas vacation with friends and family, we're right back to work again!

Bullet Points for November

+ New voxel mesh / texture atlas system completed!
+ New dynamic slope system begins implementation
+ Transitioned physics from Jitter to BEPU
+ UI preparation for upcoming release
+ Added capability for mirrored prefabs/geometry

- Normals & Tangents for prefabs and slopes have to be re-aligned
- Dynamic slope system was planned for "Spring" but moved to December


December was a busy month as we worked to meet our target deadline of "between end of December and end of January". Even with the massive voxelmesh/textureatlas upgrade (which will be coming in quite handy for modders in the future), we still managed to catch up on some of the critical issues for release.

However, our priority is always with trading potential "months of work" down the road for what would be only a month of work if we did it now, which meant rather than releasing with the same limitations as W28/W71 we decided to appropriate an overhaul for making slopes more dynamic done now instead of Spring, and before we did our first release. This ended up putting strain on our deadline, but is another one of those trades that are looking at the longrun rather than the short term.

It'll take many months before we all reap the fruits of these early labors, but we're confident it'll be worth it. ^^

What's Next?

Next month's workload is in repairing the 3D pipeline for voxels so the normals and tangents are aligned properly, as well as preparing the new engine for its first raw releases to folks outside of ZanMgt.

Stand by for January in Review!

Closing Comments

This Month in Review was written in March of 2014 so it's interesting to be able to look back at this month with some hindsight. A few extra (powerful) overhauls right up against a release deadline is a tad foolish, but hey, we're willing to look the fool if it means making a better game! Had we left these items on their Spring schedule we might have had a couple more sales, but BR and its engine would've had a lot less potential in its future. =D

And if you're wondering why we'd even bother with such out of date info, it's because we like to keep records of our work. :P

To follow the daily development resource postings, head to the forum, sign up for the newsletter, follow the Twitter, or check out the Facebook page! We're also on the Dev Chat from 9:00am-5:00pm (EST) almost every day, so if you've got a question or comment fire away!

- Aaron

February 21, 2014 - [ZanMgt]Aaron

We're all busy putting out the rapid new builds to the Founder members, but we just wanted to take a second to say thank you for everyone who voted for us!

Thanks to you, we're able to get critical Steam SDK and developer information at a point when our new engine is still able to be sculpted and molded to complement Steam (as well as the DRM-free alternative!) rather than just being "on steam".

Absolutely invaluable, thank you again!

December 17, 2013 - [ZanMgt]Aaron

Note that Steam Greenlight has a character limit to news postings, please check here for the full version of this article!

Tidbits from November Week 1

In Brief: Nathan begins on the new texture atlas system[], Gabe works on an improved way of handling combo boxes[], Nathan also starts his new dynamic shader[] pipeline, Gabe learns a bag of new tricks[] from Zack, and while Nathan gets the new texture atlas system to work, Zack takes the new voxelmesh system from 1500 errors down to 33[] in the same day.

Tidbits from November Week 2

In Brief: Zack brings the voxelmesh errors down to 22 really tough ones[], Zack then gets the voxelmesh system to compile by the next day while Gabe furthers his upgrades[] to the way UI respond to the event manager. Nathan's dynamic shader gets close to integration[], Zack refactors a bunch of bulk[] (things like thruster code and center of mass), and we release a development timeline infographic[]!

Tidbits from November Week 3

In Brief: Nathan is pleased[] with the new shader pipeline tests and resumes finishing the texture atlas, Zack refactors block data[] code to better work with the new voxelmesh system, Zack transitions us[] from SVN to GIT and SourceTree[], allowing us to make game-breaking changes without hurting the stable branch of the game. Gabe plays catchup[] fixing errors with UI as Nathan and Zack continue to refactor code, and the voxelmesh and textureatlas begin to be merged[].

Tidbits from November Week 4

In Brief: Gabe starts on the options menu screen while Nathan fixes clamping/wrapping issues[] with some textures, Zack cleans up netcode with the new voxelmesh system and we release a visual representation[] of the past 2 1/2 years of work (including two code-rewrites) via the Gource repository visualization tool. Zack's almost able to render[] the new voxelmeshes, and Thanksgiving with the family, Nathan and Gabe go straight back to work[] on shaders / UI!

Bullet Points for November

+ New voxel mesh / texture atlas system almost completed
+ 2D Menus being restored and steadily debugged
+ New dynamic shader system to enable external & improved shader control
+ Development Timeline infographic released[], Development Timeline video released
+ GIT and Source Tree transition providing more reliable & regular builds in the future

- The voxel mesh / texture atlas upgrade pushes release window into Q1 2014.
- 2D pipeline still needing some debug work (much less by December)

Development Overview

This November we've presented two separate development timeline visualizations to help give a birds-eye perspective on Blockade Runner's development. We might do some more of these as we progress through the year with added detail.

Live Gameplay Videos / GIFS

For the longest time it has been impossible to take direct footage of Blockade Runner simply because there was nothing to see while the engine was being overhauled. Every once in a while there'd be glimmers of light as Nathan and Zack would draw something for testing purposes, but it'd be surrounded by debug messages and be disabled just as quickly.

Well after a long (long, long) wait we're at the point where live gameplay can be taken once again! No foolin'! Y'all just have to bare with us as we take the new pipelines through their growing pains[]!

Expect to see steady progress as we take it from the utter blackness of bugginess, to a release worthy of 5,000 update-starved [s]debuggers[/s] supporters!

November Upgrade / Release Window

As we'd stated back in October, all of this November had been re-scheduled from cleaning up for release to implementing the new voxel mesh / texture atlas upgrade. The decision was not made lightly, as it was an opportunity to implement powerful capabilities that may have taken upwards to three months to accomplish if we held it off, whereas if we did it now while the necessary components were exposed we could get it done in less than half the time. It's painful, but with an indie situation like ours we'll take a 3:1 turnaround wherever possible.

A month or so later, and the new system for voxels is integrated, but at the unfortunate cost of almost any chance at a December release. We're still working hard to try and get BR into the supporter's hands as soon as possible, but we want to make sure everyone's not holding out for that Q4 2013 release, and have adjusted the release window to reflect the current scheduling:

What's Next?

The voxel upgrade in November was a doozy for the schedule, and as depicted pushes the safe ETA for a release into January. If we're really really lucky we can possibly get a severely buggy version available to the diehard supporters by the end of December.

The next phase for this Spring will be to maintain the bi-weekly releases as we're stabilizing BR's shiney new engine and working with the community on extending certain modding capabilities (it must be done early or not at all!). We're taking this one step at a time, and so it's best to only expect a multiplayer W71 "editor-like" experience (no pew pews or powerlines) throughout Q1 of 2014.

- Aaron

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