Third time’s the charm! Spring is slowly but surely starting to show its colors. For the March edition of our blog, once again, Marie-Cécile Jacq, our inspiring producer is back at it, blessing us with a new update on the Player Character project. Our talented Art Lead, Lotta Sörensen is sharing some of the work that goes into creating the horse tack. Finally, Karoliina Hiidenheimo, our amazing Game Designer, gives you a glimpse into the important work of improving the experience and bond between player and horse.
Player Character Update
By Marie-Cécile Jacq – Producer
Let’s focus this month on clothes and items. As the player character will have a new body, what they wear needs to be updated too.
3D models are called “meshes”, and the higher the number of faces (polygons) a mesh has, usually the better it looks. As you can guess, the new player character has more polygons than the current one. But even if we had a way to automatically “shape” the old clothes correctly to the new character, it would look odd, as they also need “more polygons” to look consistent in quality.
On another hand, if we increase the number of polygons on the items, the textures (the color, the details, what is “painted” on the mesh) can’t be used anymore, and we clearly can’t repaint everything as we’re talking about almost 10,000 textures.
Our amazing 3D artist intensively researched the “baking” options (which usually apply when you go from high resolutions to lower resolutions, not the other way around). She consulted several people and spent weeks testing the best approach, and as you can see in the picture below, she managed to have a brand new coat, with more polygons, and still keep the original texture.
Thanks to that, we’re now able to plan how much of the clothes update process will be made by hand (building a higher resolution asset) and how much can be automated (baking the old textures on the new meshes).
Once again, we want to thank you for your patience and your support. We also would like to reiterate that the initial update will be free and that players won’t have to re-purchase items they already own.
(To paint/apply textures on a mesh, the artist need to “flatten” the model, that flat display of polygons is what we call “UV”)
By Lotta Sörensen – Art Lead
Hello! My name is Lotta, I am the character/creature lead artist on SSO. My job is to make sure that everything with a spine looks good in the game and follows the style guide. I also work with normal art tasks and love doing NPCs. But today I am going to talk about tack!
Our old tack (some of which has been around since the Starshine Legacy games) has many problems and the 3D tools we had back then were not as good as now. 10 years ago unwrapping was made by hand and this resulted in “texture stretching”. We have to skew the textures to make them look good in the game and several old solutions are very hard to work with. The old models also have a much lower polycount. Polycount is how many polygons a mesh uses, and is why the old meshes look so pointy!
At the Horse and Character team, we want to update the old tack to new realistic versions with good UV. We also want to add the tack we feel is lacking. As a horse person myself, there are a ton of new things I would like to add; such as bonnets, martingales, blankets, and so on. From a graphical point of view, it seems easy to add another item slot but man, what a rabbit hole it was when we started looking into the technical aspect! We need to update the whole system: user interface, coding, inventory, shops, etc. Such a large project means that we need to plan properly for a joint effort in the future (which we want to do) and in the meantime, we will stick to the item slots we currently have.
Then we have the retrofitting. Previously when we retrofitted tack, we had a whole team spend several months fitting all Gen 3 horses at once. It produced a ton of bugs. We’ve decided that this was a poor way of updating them as we still find bugs from previous tack projects.
When we add new gear to an older horse, we need to reload the horse breed in the engine. The problem is that all NPC’s using that particular horse breed will break (see image below). We have now developed a tool to ensure that this doesn’t happen — but it’s not foolproof! We need a person to play through every single quest where that horse is used and take notes on where it breaks. This fall, we made a test with the Lusitano to see how well the tool worked. Unfortunately, we ran into several bugs, one of which is still unsolved (I’m looking at you, circus race Lusitano…). We will continue to update the horses in smaller batches, so it’s more manageable for our QA department and developers. Starting with the Equestrian Festival, we will reload the English Thoroughbred, the Lusitano, and the Arabian. Unfortunately, the Andalusian will have to wait because it’s used in so many quests. As a preparation for the next generation of horses (we are currently at Gen 3, which started with the Connemara), we plan to have all the essential tack updated so we won’t have to do too much retrofitting in the future.
By Karoliina Hiidenheimo – Game Designer
Hey there. My name is Karoliina, Karo for short, and I’m a game designer here at Star Stable! Last year we started talking about the role of horses in Star Stable Online. The love and appreciation for horses is shared by all our players and everyone here at Star Stable. We started to explore how to make the bond between horse and player more meaningful. We asked ourselves, “What does it really mean to bond with your horse in real life? What prevents you from building that same connection with the horses in Star Stable Online?”
We recognized multiple challenges that we’d like to tackle. We want to ensure that each new horse feels like the start of an exciting journey, and we have lots of ideas for how we can help players express and explore their horses’ personalities. We also want to give players more meaningful decisions over how they connect and play with their horses. Eventually, we even want to figure out what to do with our fully leveled horses. We call this The Horse Bonding Initiative!
Horse Bonding is a HUGE initiative, and we decided to start at the beginning: Horse Purchasing, the first encounter between player and horse. This should be a meaningful experience, and we want to give players the tools to truly customize their horses. As a first step, we are trying to inspire roleplay by giving players additional narrative options such as Age and Gender to explore who their horse might be. We also explored alternative options for the concept art that appears when clicking “Buy Horse.” Instead of showing a generic loading screen, imagine a cutscene of the horse approaching you, indicating that this is the start of your shared journey!
This is just the beginning, though. We also want to add more information to horse purchases, such as the horse generation, available mane styles, whether a horse variation is already owned, and special moves or gaits!
Lastly, we wanted to rework the Horse Purchasing in a way that finally solves the issue of running out of space in Jorvik for horses! With our old system, we had to place every horse in Jorvik, and the more horses we released, the more problematic the lack of space became. With this new system, it would be possible to show only one variation of each breed, with the other variations accessed from the purchase window. However, we still wanted to give the option to see the variation in the world. So when you are inspecting a horse to buy and toggling between the available coats and breeds in that location, the horse in the world gets updated to the current variation you are previewing.
So when will we see these changes in the game? Well, the customization options for Age and Gender are already live! Players can edit these anytime in their Horse Sheet. But next, we need YOUR help! In the upcoming Equestrian Festival that begins on April 6th, half of our playerbase will see the new Horse Purchasing window for the horses sold at the festival. We’d love to hear what you think of the new Horse Purchasing Window before we roll this feature out permanently!
The Horse Bonding Initiative has just begun! First with the new customization options and soon with some purchasing improvements. Afterward, we are looking to improve the leveling experience and explore horse personalities. We’d love to hear how you want to bond with your equine companions in-game! We have an ambitious roadmap and a strong desire to put the horse fantasy at the center of Star Stable. Thank you for reading!
Wow, what a great read! Don’t you think? Hopefully this gave you some more knowledge and insight into the incredible work that is being done to further improve and make Star Stable the best it can be. Stay tuned for next month’s blog!