We’re entering the new year with a bang! Learn more about the work behind the amazing snow of the Winter Festival and learn about what’s coming this year!
2023: A Year Of Many Possibilities
By Jane Skullman – Executive Producer
For the first blog post of the year we will share what you can expect for the coming year. We would also like to share some BTS regarding how we build the high level SSO roadmap and how we decide what should be included and what should not be included. This is not to be confused with the “Next up in Jorvik!” posts that we share on our website and social media channels, though you could say that they are the direct result of our high level SSO roadmap!
My name is Jane Skullman, and I’m the Executive Producer for Star Stable Online! Being an Executive Producer means I have the overall responsibility for how we build the game. The role also includes making sure that we can deliver on our vision set by our Creative and Business Directors.
To help me, I also have five producers who share my responsibility for how we build the game and that we can deliver on our vision. They are also the ones talking to the teams on a daily basis and making sure we get input and specific craft knowledge from our teams when building the roadmap.
How we decide what should be added to the roadmap
Everything we add to the roadmap should be part of our game’s vision and our business goals. We also have external guidelines like GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) for Europe and Coppa (Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule) in the US. Coppa and GDPR have very strict rules when it comes to personal information like name, age, address and other data that can be related to you. We don’t collect anything that is not stated in our terms and conditions, and we always need to ask you for permission.
The vision for the game is built on three game pillars;
Horses & Bonding – where we aim to embrace the bond between you and your horses.
Story & Fantasy – where we aim to build the narrative and the stories about the people in Jorvik including the Soul Riders and Dark Riders.
For instance, when we do a Story Quest it is in alignment with the Story & Fantasy pillar, and when we add new ways for you to interact with your horse, it falls under the Horses & Bonding pillar.
The third pillar is Player & Community – where we aim to build a world where you can be yourself (both as your avatar and how you would like to play the game), meet new friends and discover everyday life in Jorvik. The new character is a part of the Player & Community pillar where we will give you as the player more options to create a character that resonates with your personality. The new character will not have endless options just yet, but it will have more than the current character.
The vision, business goals and external guidelines, together with ideas both from you and from people working at Star Stable, form the starting point for building the roadmap.
Roadmap version 1.0 – 2023
It doesn’t matter how much you plan or try to understand how things relate to each other; there are always a couple of curve balls that you don’t see when you create a roadmap. With that said, we are really excited about the things we have added for 2023 and very committed to delivering them.
When we start building the roadmap we look at the core of the game, the things we call the foundation layer. Here you find content like our Festivals, Story Quests, Horses, Pets, Races and retrofitting.
Then we look at the things that are already ongoing which will be a part of the core content once it is released. This layer is called Don’t Stop Believing. Here we find projects that have already been in development for a while. Some of these projects we had hoped to release last year, but for various reasons and also after feedback from you, we have taken a step back to make some adjustments before considering them ready.
So here we find the new Character that we are aiming to release during the first half of 2023. But this depends a lot on the feedback given during the (second) Beta Test in the beginning of this year. In relation to the new character we are also looking at how animations can be improved when you relate to your horse. This is a technical improvement where we move from having hard coded states for our animations to using a state machine that reads an input and changes to a different state based on this input. When this is in place we have a long list of things we want to improve when it comes to animations regarding the character/horse relationship. This will be a longer process so all improved animations will not be completed at the same time.
Horse Progression will also be something that we are aiming to release in early 2023, which you could read about in the September blogspot.
We are also looking into how we can improve races and championships, and yes we are aware of the cheating in the game. We are working from several perspectives on how we can stop exploits and make racing more fair. Sadly, last year we failed with the implementation of Game Guard. But even though there were various issues with it, when Game Guard was active, we were able to measure a drop in cheating during this period. This result — and knowing how important fair play is to our community — encourages us to work hard to find better solutions to stop cheating in Star Stable.
In this layer we also have our Android release, as it looks like right now we will have the game out in early access before summer. Sweden will be our test market and the first country for Early Access. In the best case scenario we will roll it out globally straight after the test period, but if we feel we need to investigate and test some more we will add a few other markets before the global release.
After we have made sure that these two layers have space in the roadmap, we will look to add new things. These could be new mechanics or new types of content. This layer is the most complex one since it includes evolving our tech and design, and this means we also need to update our pipelines and sometimes create new ways of working.
The new initiative for this year is the inventory revamp, and if things go as planned we will do some testing with players after summer. This will allow us to start discovering what items to add for the new character and your horses. There is a long wish list both from you and from the team. And it will also make it possible to start working on my most wanted feature, Home Stable Customization. We are also aiming to give you dressage and the first iteration will most likely be released during a festival. Another focus area is adding more multiplayer opportunities within the game, and the first iteration will aim to bring in more co-op things to do together.
We are also looking to make some changes in the backend that will allow you to change your character name. Most likely the change of character name will not be released during 2023 since it involves more work than the changes in the backend. But we will prepare for it.
We also have a layer of Discovery, where we create most of the stuff on paper and explore how this could contribute to the game. The things in Discovery will most likely not be released during 2023. One topic that we intend to discover that already has been heavily discussed in our community is breeding. The topic of breeding stems from a passion project from one of our lead artists, where she created a shader that can customise the looks of the horse without creating a new specific texture for it. This could potentially be used for breeding but also in general to customise your horse. Other things that will move into Discovery are Horse Personality and Horse Prestige. We are also exploring what magic is in Jorvik.
Then there is maybe the not so fun but very much needed layer, maintenance. The same teams that are building and creating the game are also handling the maintenance, including bug fixes. So when planning for all the new and fun stuff we also make space for fixing bugs and working with performance. Regarding maintenance, we have a super interesting initiative related to test automation which is needed in order to handle our four different platforms (WIndows, MacOS, iOS and soon to be Android), and also a lot of things going on within the engine team in order to improve memory handling and game performance.
So these are some of the things that you can expect from 2023, but not all! We still want to be able to surprise you. For example, each Festival will bring something new and the story about our Soul and Dark Riders will continue to unfold. There is a saying that the devils are in the details and with that said the details this year will very much be inline with that saying…
So I hope you are equally excited about 2023 as my dogs are when playing outdoors or we are hanging out on the couch, I know I am. And speaking about pets! Nah I leave that for a future blog post.
I look forward to your reactions and feedback, where it is possible we will adapt and adjust. Sometimes we can do that fast and sometimes it takes some time. And in some cases we decide not to do the change. In March we will share more regarding things we decided not to do even if we once thought we would. We have not been as good at this previously and we want to improve in this area and also share when our plans do not pan out as we first thought.
How Jorvik Was Transformed Into a Snowy Wonderland!
Hello, Starfam! My name is Gilbert Nordhammar, and I’m a graphics programmer and part of the SSO engine team. With me I have Oscar Carlsson, who is lead environment artist for SSO. We both worked on the new snow feature in the latest Winter Festival. Today we’re going to talk a bit about how we did it!
The Snow From a Technical Perspective
By Gilbert Nordhammar – Graphics & Engine Programmer
What made working with the snow special was how closely it required our artists and programmers to collaborate. New technologies and tools had to be introduced to the engine that also gave artists the freedom to experiment. One example was the ability to easily replace textures with snowy ones for the world landscape. This was achieved by dividing it into three categories: road, terrain, and mountain. The artists created one texture for each category, and the programmers made a tool that allowed them to easily swap out landscape textures based on these categories.
All terrain textures were replaced by different snow textures according to the categories “Road”, “Terrain”, and “Mountain”.
We also needed to figure out how to add snow to everything else, like trees, buildings, and various other items. For this, the previous strategy of replacing textures wasn’t viable because there are way too many textures to go through and because these objects should only have snow on the parts that face the sky. This was solved by mixing the original texture with the snow texture depending on how much the surface points straight up. Take the hay bale in the picture below, for instance; The surface pointing straight up marked by the orange arrow is completely covered by snow, while the surface pointing to the side marked by the green arrow has no snow. The surface marked with the purple arrow points somewhere in between and therefore is partly covered.
The amount of snow on a surface depends on its orientation towards the sky.
For the snow to be more fun and truly feel like real snow, we wanted it to change when stepped on. This was done by recording where each nearby character had walked and then using that information to push down the ground. In order to make the tracks more distinguishable, we also gave them a slightly darker color. However, in some places the snow might already be trampled down, so the tracks shouldn’t be deep. One scenario where this is the case is for roads. These places were masked out so that they didn’t get pushed down when walking on.
You can reshape the snow, which makes it really fun to play with!
For all of you tech nerds, here’s some more juicy details:
All 3D models (also called “mesh”) consist of many small triangles that together form the surface. What “pushing down the ground” in fact means is that the triangles that make out that specific part of the surface get pushed down. A problem in regards to this was that the ground mesh didn’t have enough triangles for the snow tracks to look good. This could be solved by simply increasing the triangle density of the entire ground mesh, but that would slow down performance since it would take more time to draw those extra triangles. We solved this by procedurally only generating more triangles where the ground was being pushed down. That way there would be enough detail for the snow tracks to look good while still keeping the overall triangle count at an acceptable level. The process of procedurally generating triangles is called tessellation.
The Snow From an Artistic Perspective
By Oscar Carlsson – Lead Environment Artist
When we created this year’s winter release, we wanted to make a cohesive experience for you from the clothing to the game experience, and in the center of that experience was the snow. We went with a theme we called snowbound. What that meant for us artists was that we wanted to create a mood and atmosphere that felt immersive and magical. With the help and collaboration of the coders, I think we managed to do just that.
During the process though, there was a lot of trial and error when it came to textures. One example was the road texture that Gilbert explains. The first version included horse tracks to indicate that you were actually on a road, but due to technical limitations, the same texture was placed in front of houses and it removed some of the immersiveness when it looked like horses had walked in and out of houses!
So we needed more of a generic road snow texture, but not TOO generic because if it was all just white the world became very hard to navigate, so this was a bit of a balancing act.
There was also some manual work required to set up the materials in the game that would or would not use snow, but luckily this only needed to be done once and then we could toggle it on and off.
In comparison, the previous version of snow in the game was extremely labor dependent and once it was done you had to do the same process all over again in reverse to bring back summer! I was the person who did this for the last few years when we had our old snow, so I speak from experience! Now changing between summer and winter can be done at the push of a button (with some tweaks to new textures and materials made since last winter). So it is a great improvement for us to work with.
While developing this feature with the programmers we also managed to add some changes that will help us with “popping” when we swap from low resolution to high resolution textures on the terrain, so there is a fade instead of just swapping. This is something that will be there during the summer as well, so by doing this project, we managed to improve on the world itself for the rest of the year as well.
We’re off! Everyone here at Star Stable is so excited for what’s to come this year, hope you feel the same! Stay tuned in February for the next blog!