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Friday, June 22, 2018

APB Roadmap

Hi everyone,

Today, I'm going to attempt to outline our Roadmap and approach, so you guys can see our priorities for what we're working on.
This is a little overdue, and I apologize for that. I gave what I thought was a decent overview of the APB Roadmap on the Q&A, but since then several players have expressed that they would like to see something a bit more formal.
I'm going to divide the Roadmap into Projects. Some of these occur in parallel using different teams and team members, but I'm going to list them in chronological order here.
As a side note, most of this early development focuses on PC for a number of reasons. APB console currently has a different publisher, so we have to jump through some hoops when submitting those builds to Microsoft and Sony. That slows things down. But more importantly, we're trying to align the PC version with the console versions to consolidate everything on Unreal 3.5. That means that the bulk of the work is focused on PC.

Project #1: Infrastructure (1.19)We're about halfway through this project. It's everything we feel we need to get out of the way before diving into Unreal 3.5.
Version 1.19.5 (PC Only)
For the month of May and June, we've been focusing on cleaning out the cobwebs. It took a little bit of time just to get a PC build through QA and out the door properly. This version focused on eliminating as many of the cheat opportunities in the game.
- Integration with new client-side Anti-cheat
- Some exploit fixes (coming up in the next patch)
Version 1.19.6 (PC Only)
This version focuses on some quality of life changes for players.
- Fixes to networking to help lag
- Overall weapon balance pass
- Fixes to Friends system
- Update to visual design of ARMAS to help with navigation
- Dropping unpopular items from ARMAS
Version 1.19.7 (PC Only)
This version focuses on some quality of life changes for players.
- New Trade System for players to move items and money back and forth without getting scammed
Version 2.1.0 (Consoles Only)
We need to do some basic console SDK upgrades that have to be completed before we can submit any new changes. Our goal is to get this out of the way in July.
Notes on Project #1:
We also plan on supporting Two-Factor Authentication in this Project.

Project #2: Unification (2.2)This project focuses on bringing the PC version up to Unreal 3.5, and then optimizing and adding some features to the console versions. Some of this work will start in July.
Version 2.2
There is quite a bit here that I'm not going to specifically list. This version focuses on the remaining bits of Unreal 3.5 for PC. But it also includes:
- Fix crashes on console related to memory handling
- Fix level optimizations
- Fix bad frame rate for dynamic lights / night lights / day night cycle
- Fix level collision meshes
- Add music studio to PC/console for Unreal 3.5
Notes on Project #2:
It looks like we will be dropping support for Windows Vista when we upgrade APB PC to Unreal 3.5. Microsoft officially stopped supporting Vista in April 2017, so it just isn't worth the extra development time for us.

Project #3: Critical Mechanics / Minor Content (2.2.1)This isn't as far out as you think, but we have some content planned including progression changes, 1 new gun and 1 new vehicle.

Alongside all of this, our 2nd team is working on Unreal 4. This will not be a short project, but it has lots of milestones along the way. We are initially focused on getting the third person shooter mechanics of APB up and running in one of the existing districts. From there we'll start layering on customization and other systems.
I plan on doing regular updates to this Roadmap, and hopefully a dev blog to show off things we're excited about.

Thanks,
Matt

Thursday, June 7, 2018

June 2018 Anti-cheat Update!


Hi everyone,

We're coming up on nearly 30 days, and I am excited to announce that we will be releasing our first patch.

Just to set expectations there is one major outstanding bug, so I'm not 100% positive this will be ready, but with a little testing we should be ready to go. We expect to lock servers at 4am Pacific / 11am UTC, and there will be 6 hours of downtime for patching and testing.

One of our players provided these links to track the exact time in your timezone:

Server going down:
https://www.timeanddate.com/worldclock/fixedtime.html?msg=SERVERS+GOING+DOWN&iso=20180608T11&p1=1440
 
Server coming back up (expected):
https://www.timeanddate.com/worldclock/fixedtime.html?msg=APB+UNBAN&iso=20180608T17&p1=1440

BattlEye:

This is the first big step in rebuilding this game as a fun, safe environment to play. Our new client-side anti-cheat is the biggest addition in this update. Our initial implementation should handle a majority of situations, but you can expect that we will continue tweaking this until we're happy with the results.

FairFight unbans:

In my Q&A I mentioned that I had done a lot of research into many of the FairFight bans, and due to a number of factors, I found many permanent bans that were either blatantly incorrect or too subjective for my comfort level. As of this release, we will be unbanning a significant of those players because it's impossible for me to tell who cheated and who didn't. For most players, you should be able to log in on Friday and access these older accounts. If you didn't get unbanned, you are welcome to send in a support ticket, but it will take some time for us to address these, so please be patient with us.

Stripping unbanned accounts:

The community has been very vocal about the fact that we will be unbanning known cheaters. This is unavoidable, even though we know those accounts abused the system and their opponents to their own personal gain. After some consideration, I have decided that all unbanned accounts will be stripped of the following:
- APB$
- Joker Tickets

I realize this will also penalize some of the honest players who were banned unfairly, but it's the only way I can see to make sure we don't flood the game with accounts that have unfair advantages.

Next steps:

I'll be collecting notes from the devs over the weekend, and I'll post the timeline and focus of our next update soon.

Thanks,
Matt

Friday, May 25, 2018

Two week update: Q&A notes from my stream

Hi everyone,

I want to start by thanking everyone who came out for the stream today. I had a great time chatting with Kempington. He was a gracious host and put a lot of behind-the-scenes effort into pulling off the broadcast. The community asked many thoughtful and direct questions, and I know he and Lixil tried to include as many as they could.

Before I jump in, I want to talk a little bit of how I like to approach problems.

I like clear solutions that can be largely enforced through objective systems and infrastructure. If an exploit exists, then we should be trying to fix it. Make no mistake, that doesn't give players license to abuse it. Our terms of service clearly state you should report it and that we can ban you for exploiting. However, that also means we shouldn't leave these kinds of problems around for years on end either.

Here are the questions and answers from today:


1. Will you be changing the cheat detection? If so, will you be looking to unban players from the past? Will there be ban broadcasts in future?


The cheating problem in APB is complex. It's a hard game. Our players like it, because it has a unique combination of gameplay that takes a while to master. Managing recoil. Leaning around cover points. Switching weapons for various conditions.

Cheating robs everyone of that experience.

I fully understand the desire to want to put on some training wheels to make your own gaming experience a little more fun. Wall hacking. Smooth aim. No recoil. I get it. But ask yourself what are you afraid of? Being embarrassed? Losing a match? Isn't that how we get better?

We are committed to creating a fair, fun environment to play the game. So, I am very excited to announce that we are implementing Battleye as our client-side cheat solution. It's used by Fortnite, PUBG, and many other games. The implementation is mostly done, and we hope to include it in our next patch. We will be keeping our internal cheat detection and our server-side cheat detection and continue to tune them as well.

Now the second part. Unbanning.

This has been a complicated decision. One part of the community feels that cheaters have ruined the game and that they deserve to stay banned. The other part of the community feels they have been unjustly banned.

For me, this comes down to a single question: “Has the cheating/banning policy been enforced objectively or subjectively?”

In an ideal world, everything is black and white. I've spent the last couple weeks working alongside customer support, talking to players, vetting logs, and testing our cheat detection myself.
The results were conclusive.

Our current system is inaccurate and capable of automatically banning players who are not cheating. I also found a lot of instances where bans were enforced subjectively. That means the punishment or lack thereof was largely at the discretion of the GM or CS person.
In order to grow, we need consistency.

With that in mind, I am going unban a significant portion of the player base.

Before you get too excited or disappointed, let's establish a couple expectations.
  • This isn't going to happen until we release the next patch with Battleye.
  • Please do not contact support asking to be unbanned. That will happen automatically when we're ready, and then we'll message the player base.
  • We will not be unbanning players that violated other parts of our terms and conditions. For instance, credit card fraud or other forms of illegal activities.
My hope is that players will see this for the opportunity it is and come enjoy the game. If they choose to cheat, then we have given fair warning, and we will ban them again.

Lastly, we will not be broadcasting, tweeting, or publicizing bans. We are not proud of banning or catching cheaters. Banning is a failure. It means someone has left the game, and while that person may have clearly violated the rules, it still means we lost a player.


2. Can you give us a rough roadmap on what you plan on working on first? Is the Engine upgrade to 3.5 a priority/first on the list? What can we expect?


Our project for the last two weeks has been "Infrastructure".

We identified a couple key areas such as customer support, anti-cheat, and the forum systems, and we upgraded them to help provide a better base for us to grow on. The PC version has not seen a patch in 9 months. We are clearing the cobwebs, upgrading old licenses, and getting testing processes back in place. We have a little more to do on this including 2FA to help secure accounts better, and a couple other items.

Our next project is "Unification".

We will be completing the upgrade to Unreal 3.5, which will  benefit both the PC players by incorporating a lot of optimizations that the console version received, and also improving the console version by filling out the missing features. This will also include some optimizations to help the game run better, and we will be cleaning up a lot of code.

There are a slew of other things we want to do, but trying to implement any new content onto the top of what we have would be a mistake, so I prioritized this piece first. I'm not going to give a time estimate, but I will give periodic updates on our progress. I will also say that we have an entirely separate team working on the Unreal 4 upgrade. They are starting from an empty project and then migrating one system at a time.

Beyond Unification, we will be focusing on "Critical Mechanics".

This will be a hard core look at some of the long standing issues in the game that need fixing.
Alongside this project, I'd like to do a "Minor Content" update. Just a small project to get back into the content generation tools. We'd like to get a new weapon in the game. Possibly some new clothing items. Possibly a new vehicle. I doubt they will be crazy innovative, but we need to start somewhere.
And then I'd like to do a "Major Content" update.

A new map and/or a new mode. We have plenty of these systems that were already in the works, and some that were nearly finished.

Hopefully we will catch up with the Unreal 4 team at this point, and we'll be able to cut over.


3. Will ARMAS pricing in the future be changed? If so how. On the subject of micro-transactions, how do you plan on tackling the Pay 2 Win stigma that’s been haunting this game for a long time?


I have spent some time looking at this, and this is another polarizing question.

I personally don't feel that APB is Pay 2 Win. The weapons don't make that big of a difference on whether you win or lose. Not every weapon can be used in every situation. A very skilled player will nearly always win regardless of whether an unskilled player has bought the best weapons they can get.

However, that stigma exists for a reason.

In my opinion I think the balance/costs on ARMAS do need to be examined. We have a designer coming in who will be make a pass to balance the pricing of the store. I do want players to feel that we're being fair and not trying to gouge them for money.


4. With the upcoming changes to the CoC and ToS, what areas are going to be scrutinized the most? How will in-game behavior be moderated in the future? What’s the stance on nudity, such as player made symbols and clothing?


I really feel like this question is better answered by Lixil, but I'll answer this question from a high level standpoint.

First, you're going to see us in-game more. So expect to interact with the GMs.

Second, I love the immense creativity at the heart of APB. Personalizing your character, weapons, and vehicles is one of the aspects of this game that makes it fun. Overall, I don't want to dampen that creativity. However we have limits. This is a game. Nudity doesn't have a place here, and it's not allowed. Hate speech or symbols are also not allowed.

Use some common sense, and you'll be fine.


5. De-threating. Will you be looking to tackle this phenomenon, if so how? Will changes to the threat system be made to assist this?


At the end of the day, this comes down to proper matchmaking and creating fair fights.

This is one of those long standing systems that needs to be changed. I want to dig in more deeply, but we are committed to better matchmaking.


6. Will there be a live stream dedicated to Dev updates / Dev Vlog to show active process and work on the game?


I love this idea, and based on the reaction to today's stream, I want to make it happen.

I think the best way for us to build trust with the community is to do what we say we are going to do. Showing off progress is a great way to do that.


7. Will the original login screen, along with some of the previous music within the game, be making a return?


I think so - or some close variation.

I need to check a couple of things like music rights to make sure we can still use that track. Admittedly I had the login screen music track playing on a loop from YouTube for a portion of May 10th. It's a great vibe to start the game with.


8. Will you be addressing the poor performance and optimization on the console versions of the game?


First, I have to apologize, because I saw the Xbox and PS4 forums, but I didn't realize they couldn't post in the main Social Discussion. We've corrected that in the new forums, so console players can better participate in the community.

Second, yes. There are a bunch of areas that we should be improved on the consoles. By unifying the code base, I think we can put more attention on this. The console players need some love.


9. Are there going to be any further extensions to the ignore/friend lists? Will this system be changed at all, if so how?


I have spoke with the dev team, and there is a small "cost" to the database size for friends and ignores, so we can't make these lists infinite.

However I'm a not a big fan of charging for more ignore or friend slots. I don't know when we will be able to address this, but I'd like to increase the size of the lists and just give that to everyone for free.

Other Questions:


1. What is your stance on the prestige/notoriety system (bounty system). Do you plan to make any amendments to this?


This needs work.

I understand what the designers were going for, but the current system has a lot of feel-bad moments for higher skilled players. Mainly I don't think anyone outside the opposing team should be able to interfere with you when you're in a mission.


2. Will the Refer-A-Friend system be making a return? Do you plan to make any changes to it?


I haven't given this a lot of thought yet.

We do need to implement something that helps players share the game with their friends to help us grow APB.


3. A lot of players are curious to the future of the weapon balance in this game. Do you plan on making changes to the weapons in the near future?


This is tricky.

We are going to have a designer make a pass through the game, but I would expect only minor tweaks to help balance things. My general feeling is that most weapons are decently balanced now, and its a lot easier to mess that balance up than to improve it.


4. In the distant future, will character server transfers be possible?


Character server transfers current have a lot of pitfalls.

I wish it were an automated system, but more often than not when we move characters it screws up some aspect of their customizations. Symbols. Facial features. Clothing items. If we can solve these issues, then I would love to make this available to players with some limitations, because I think it would help our server populations, but we need to do some serious work on it first.

As a side note, we will be migrating the Han players to Jericho. This wont happen immediately because of the issues I mentioned above, but I want to give the Asia/Pacific players a larger pool of players to interact with.


5. Players are eager to see a proper trading system in the game be implemented. Is this a possibility?


Yes. This comes down to infrastructure. It shouldn't be possible to scam players. That's bad system design.

However, trading securely leads to other problems that we need to think through. It's possible that we may need to build in waiting periods or trade locking mechanisms to manage abuse.


6. What plans do you have to improve the competitive scene of the game?


I'm going to be more vague about this.

There are some things in the works that I hope come to fruition. If they do, then I'll point back to this stream and say, "that's what I was talking about". But we are definitely looking at new modes for the Major Update.


7. Are there any changes coming for Joker Boxes due to potential gambling legislation?


For those that aren't aware, the Netherlands and Belgium have approved laws that define Loot Boxes or any randomized reward system as gambling based on specific criteria.
We are watching this fairly closely.

I like the Netherlands approach, because they have specific guidelines and timelines to help publishers get into compliance. Belgium not so much. Most likely we will keep the Joker Box system, but the rewards wont be tradable, which means the price may go down.


8. Will GamersFirst approve the use of shader configs or the Advanced Launcher?


No. This is a super slippery slope.

Once we allow players to modify parts of the game, then how do we detect cheater-based changes from these more innocuous changes? That makes our investment into Battleye useless.

However, I do believe GamersFirst needs to solve the problems that these things address. We need to allow players to change the color of the crosshairs in-game for colorblind people. We need to add a lower graphics processor setting to help people with less powerful machines.

Thanks again to everyone who participated and volunteered questions.

Sincerely,
Matthew Scott

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Changes in Community Management and Customer Support

Hello G1 Community,

It's Day #5, and I want to thank everyone for reaching out with their support and enthusiasm. Please know that we are reading and digesting all the feedback that has come in. I'm not quite ready to walk through our new policies, but we are making progress.

We said that we would be making changes, and that starts today.

NEW COMMUNITY MANAGER

First, we are announcing that Tiggs will no longer be the GamersFirst Community Manager, Customer Support Manager, and Producer.

She has decided to transition into an advisory/training capacity and will be helping onboard the Little Orbit staff to get everyone up to speed on the many tools and systems that go into running GamersFirst, APB: Reloaded, and Fallen Earth. Personally, I want to thank her for the years of very difficult service that she provided. At times she was a one-woman show, running all of these departments by herself. She has a dedicated set of GMs that will remain in-game to help players and respond to tickets. Over the next couple weeks we'll be adding GMs to make sure we're more available.

I don't want to setup our new staff for the same problems and hard ships of the past.

I've already stated that we will be announcing a new set of policies including the Forum Rules, Code of Conduct, Terms of Service, and Privacy Policy. These will have simple straightforward wording designed to help players understand the rules. Our intention is to create a safe place for people to get the full enjoyment of our games, and I want our players to know exactly why corrective action occurred for any issues they might face in the future.

With that in mind, I would like to introduce everyone to Lixil, Little Orbit's current Community Manager. Some of you noticed her logging in and reading the forums. Effective immediately she will be taking over management of social media, the forums, its mods, the GMs, and our volunteer programs.

Also as part of this transition on Friday the 25th we will be putting up a brand new version of our forum software. The team is working hard to QA test that system now. As I mentioned in my Open Letter, we wont be deleting these forums. We will move them to a new URL, and any player who wants to repost any thread is welcome to move it over.

NEW CUSTOMER SUPPORT MANAGER

Second, we are announcing that Selali will be expanding his role as Little Orbit's Customer Support Manager and taking over GamersFirst Support. He will be running customer support along with his internal CS and QA team.

As part of this transition on Friday the 25th we will be launching an entirely new Support Site with a new knowledge base and the ability for players to track their tickets.

Lastly, I also want to acknowledge the lengthy "Questions for Matt" thread on the forums. I'm not ignoring those, as the CEO of Little Orbit I have a couple other priorities that absorb my time. But I still plan on slowly starting to answer those questions as we keep moving forward.

Feel free to comment.

Here is the forum thread for APB: Reloaded.

Here is the forum thread for Fallen Earth.

I look forward to sharing more information with you soon.

And of course, thank you for your patience and support.

Sincerely,
Matthew Scott

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Open Letter to the APB: Reloaded Community

Hello APB community,

My name is Matthew Scott and I’m the CEO of Little Orbit.

Today we have announced the acquisition of GamersFirst, and the games it contains, but to go along with that announcement, I thought I would take some time and write a personal letter to the APB Reloaded community.

Let me start by sharing an introduction to Little Orbit so you can get to know us. We started as a small game developer in 2003, and in the last 8 years we have grown into a small retail publisher. We are not a big studio, and trust me, you wont find any of our previous titles impressive. But over the last year, we have started taking steps to transition into the publisher we want to be.

There’s been a lot of speculation over the last couple months about who would be crazy enough to take on this game. And I’m not going to try and sugarcoat it, we know that the confidence in this game is at an all time low, and odds are you haven’t heard of us at Little Orbit. But that’s OK. There’s a lot of work to do, and I’m not writing this letter to make unrealistic promises or layout a grand roadmap. Instead, I’m going to ask for your patience as we get organized and that you give us a chance to show you that we are sincere in our efforts to make APB Reloaded the game we all know it can be.

I will however make one simple commitment right now. From here on out, I promise to communicate with the community on a regular basis. No more silence. Good, bad or ugly I will share where we are at.

Moving forward there are a number of areas that we need to address for the long term health of this game. Some of them are sexy like new content for the game, and some are just operational changes to how the game is run that I feel need to be made.

In the next 30 days, expect to see GDPR updates for GamersFirst including new privacy policies, code of conduct, and term & conditions. We will also be cleaning up the social pages, implementing a new forum, showcasing a general roadmap for the game and announcing a significant change to our banning and cheating policies.

This is all critical for setting up an environment where you can give us feedback.

After that we’re going to focus on content. I’ll be working on an exact roadmap that we can publish soon, but over the coming months we would like to add a new mode, maps, clothes, guns, vehicles and a new matching system for competitive play. Alongside all of that we are committed to upgrading APB Reloaded to the Unreal 4 engine. This is a long process that involves a massive rewrite of several core systems and a lot of art migration. I know that this has been talked about extensively in the past, and it has been a sore point with the community for a while. It’s going to take time. We need to start by unifying the PC version on Unreal 3.5, and then moving to Unreal 4. Personally I don’t think Unreal 4 is going to have a big impact on the look or speed of the game. It may not even be noticeable to some. But for APB Reloaded to have long-term viability, transitioning to Unreal 4 is something we need to do.

I look forward to sharing more information with you soon.

And of course, thank you for your patience and support.

Sincerely,
Matthew Scott