Also the level of anxiety among our posters seem to reflect the same kind of intensity that we have inside the team. And yes - we are a pretty small team making giant changes, so bear with us.
The Studio Team spent insane crunch hours getting version 1.5.0 up to snuff and in particular battling a couple of really nasty and hard to isolate crash-bugs which eventually were vanquished, while the Operations Team worked it's tail off to make sure that the EU servers were all running as designed. As of Friday, things had finally started to get sorted out.
So, this coming week, we have BIG plans. Unless something last minute comes up with version 1.5.0, we are ready (any day now) to release it to production. Once we release the build - it also means WE WILL WIPE OUT all existing characters and progression, since the new upgrades, progression systems etc, are not compatible with the old way of doing things.
As soon as this build is live, THEN we plan to invite EVERYONE else who applied for Closed Beta (!).
I can hear the questions already so I will try to answer them ahead of time;
Q- what day will you release version 1.5?
A - when it's ready.
Q - when will it be ready?
A - we really truly hope it will happen this week! But as with anything in game development, there could be unforseen snags along the way.
Q - if I am NOT already a Closed Beta tester, but have been sitting on my hands patiently waiting to get back in to San Paro, is there any chance you will invite me before 1.5 goes out?
A - No. But if you DID complete a Beta Application in February, then you are first in line to get in while the game is still in Closed Beta and as soon as 1.5 is out. (see note below). That means this COULD happen this week.
Q - are you SURE you will not invite me before you release 1.5, especially if 1.5 gets delayed?
A - yup - we are NOT planning to invite more people to 1.4.x. Could it happen? Only if there is something terribly wrong and we revert back to an earlier version or there is some massive delay with 1.5 - but barring that - there will be no new invites until 1.5 is live.
Q - why will you not invite me before 1.5?
A - because we have ALREADY tortured and abused 25,000 people (or more exactly the 20,399 people who properly activated their closed beta characters) and now we REALLY want people to experience (and TEST) version 1.5 more than anything else, since that version is so different (and improved) from 1.4.x versions. So no point in having more people in 1.4.x, when we REALLY need you in 1.5. The priority is to get everyone else who completed the beta app in to 1.5 while it's in Closed Beta, and after that, open up the Open Beta and invite the full original 150,000 who registered an interest, and after that slowly open this up to the world.
Q - will version 1.5 be Open Beta?
A - sort of. The very first release of 1.5 will in fact now happen in Closed Beta mode. That means people cannot actually buy things on the first day this goes live. There will also be some other oddities with the first version of this build, but we will share those in the official release notes.
Q - will there be another character wipe after 1.5 has gone out?
A - maybe. There will be a wipe WITH the release of 1.5. But even after 1.5 has BEEN out, this is a really tricky question, since we presume we haven't done anything mental. However, in case we have done something mental, keep in mind that this is STILL Closed Beta. And as such, any Closed Beta character and account could in theory be wiped at any time, and even multiple times (though we would hope NOT to ever have to do that). As soon as we officially go to Open Beta (and especially after we start taking payments), then we will clearly try to not wipe anything again (the operative word is "try" - since there are extreme cases where changes have to be made even after OB release).
Critical changes completed;
As he normally does, Scott (our Development Producer) will prepare the official release notes for 1.5, but in the meantime I will share the list of the most critical changes that are now finished (or lined up to be added as a first patch to 1.5)
Core changes already in version 1.5:
New Spawning System - unlike the old system where players often spawned in opponents faces or far away from the action, the new system actually works logically; you will respawn near your own team mates and generally away from where you last died. The actual code is quite complicated given the sheer number of strange conditions and team locations the system has to account for. But our development team created something really great. From our playtests the new system makes a lot of sense and actually make you feel part of the same team.
Witnessing - you know this REALLY is working well and is something quite special when one of our developers witnessed another developer during a playtest, and suddenly the entire development team descended into an absolutely insane chase through the city to grab the loot before the crim claimed the money. We lost a large chunk of development time to this unforeseen side effect of making a great system.
Modifiers (formerly "upgrades") - the new Modifiers simply behave completely differently than the original "upgrades" did back in the day. Now if you pick "Kevlar" you will surely become much harder to kill, but you will also run much slower. By the time you have 3x Kevlar implants, you will run like a tank (or like a grief truck). All the mods now also sit in color-coded ‘classes’, with only one mod per class being allowed at any time.
Individual pledging - Say goodbye to district chat containing “Looking for <Insert Contact Name Here> group” since in the new system players will be able to pledge individually when in any group, so you’re always progressing while on missions with your mates.
Camera changes - The camera now moves more naturally when the player is running/sprinting adding that little bit more dynamism to the game.
Reduced run-time memory usage - Implemented use of DXT Texture compression which reduced our run-time memory usage and significantly improved the graphical quality for users on 32-bit machines. Should be a welcome change for all non-64-bit users in the world.
Reduced client size - Reduced client disk space by several changes, much of the savings coming from audio re-compression. It looks like the final build will be just at 4.2GB through the launcher and under that for the DVD-style installer. This means we are now near 1/2 the original game size (original size was 7.8GB) without giving up much (if any) perceptible quality. In fact, the game looks visually much nicer now than it did during the original release.
Critical changes NOT YET completed - but scheduled as a very early patch to 1.5:
Skill Ratings - ie - the brand new threat level system based on a true skill rating algorithm, that in turn will integrate with the matchmaking system, and how that eventually figures in to district segmentation. The skill rating implementation is probably the most critical pending change, and the one we hope to roll out as soon as possible after the first release of 1.5, to finally settle the "why do I get slaughtered all the time" issue.
District Skill Segmentation - to make the game more MMO-like, we will actually let people that have "progressed" in the game go play in their more sophisticated districts (and any upstart who WANTS to go join them can certainly do so at their own risk). This should let people who are casual players play in a world that's just slightly different than players who are more serious competitors. Obviously we will be sharing much more info about this particular feature as we get closer to releasing this.
So stay tuned. Much stuff going on this week, and if you continue following the blog, facebook and the forums, then we surely will have a lot of fun things to share with you this week.