This is quite a long entry into our Developer Desk series. Before we get into everything, we want to bring up a survey we have created. Surveys are new for our Developer’s Desk emails, but we felt this is a great opportunity to gather your feedback on the updates we have pushed this year and give you a space to ask any pressing questions or comments. You may find some of your questions or comments already answered in this article. Please do consider reading all the way to the end. If you don’t have time to read this entire message, please click the link below and complete the survey. Your answers will help shape the future of Istaria’s development. You will need to supply your username to help us verify game ownership and weed out any duplicates.
The year began with the major content update; “Tales of Tazoon”. This update was our final one to the Tazoon storyline and aimed to resolve any stories that were still being told. It brought far more than that, however, from a new appearance to our scaly cousins, the wyverns, to an expanded version of the title overhaul that was originally implemented with the “Cult of Nazderon” back in 2020.
Later on in the year we brought you “Gifted Beginnings”, a complete overhaul of the New Trismus island and storyline, as well as some of the connecting stories in the Saris city of Kion and the jungles of Sslanis. Now touching up the starting area is nothing new (don’t worry, we hear you on the jokes about New, New, New, New Trismus loud and clear!) but with this overhaul we hope to provide a truly definitive experience of the storyline, touched up with both new and rediscovered technologies to make it as immersive as we can possibly make it for you. Furthermore, a new design plan for communities was brought in with the communities on the island of Genevia, all of which are meant to give more of a township feeling than the flat lands you may have grown accustomed to, we hope you enjoy this new direction for world building and all the little nooks and crannies it offers. Who knows? There may still be things undiscovered in these all too familiar lands! The Gifted Beginnings update also saw many touch ups to the various schools and their abilities, something we continued with the final update of the year:
With 21.3 “Fangs in the Mist” we brought previous changes to the early classes of Cleric, Mage, Scout, and Warrior to level 100, but more importantly we introduced both a revamp and expansion to the existing Werewolf storyline, grounding them more into the world of Istaria rather than just being something loosely tacked onto the world. However, this is only the beginning, and a further exploration of the ferocious beasts will continue at a future date.
The year of polish wasn’t only reflected in things directly available to all of you because under the proverbial hood we have also had a long and deep look into things.
Our tech team has completed improvements to many of our development pipelines; from art, to design, and even our server. Creation of new tools has helped speed up development of quality content all around and, most importantly, prospective fixes to underlying systems have shown the potential of fixing up some of the deeper lying bugs that have plagued the lands of istaria for far too long.
Over the course of 2021 we brought a number of new volunteers onto the team, some of whom you may have seen online already, like Shiruzora, but also others who, whilst they may not appear outwardly apparent, have provided us with quality testing of new and upcoming content on our development server to bring it out to you with a fair bit less of those nasty bugs we all detest, and gracing us all with new and shiny assets!
We’re always looking to expand our ranks, and if you think you’ve got what it takes, most important of which is a passion for our beloved game, then know we’re never more than a support ticket away!
That’s enough about all that has come and gone. Now for the real meat (or Tofurkey) and potatoes, a look at what you may see coming in 2022.
2020 and 2021 were big years for storylines and quests in Istaria and 2022 is shaping up to be more of the same!
Can you say Dryads? Can you say epic boss?
While I can’t divulge the details of what we’re working on, rest assured that the story will once again rock the foundations of The Empire and, we hope, introduce a ton of content including quests, a dungeon-zone, and a new epic boss that should entertain for some time to come. Perhaps a small tease is in order…
Some of the concept art that’s pushing the direction of Dryad content.
In addition, as these changes are related, we’ll also be giving the Western Deadlands region and the Tower of Nature a much-needed overhaul that will start at Aubador and include its own storyline content. For now, we’ll have to keep specifics under wraps, but we hope we’ve piqued your interest.
You heard it here first, the Rite of Passage!
Yes, your eyes aren’t deceiving you. We’ve got another big change in store for the coming year. We’re taking the tools we’ve developed and the techniques we’ve honed over the last few years and applying them to the Dragon Rite of Passage. The goal is to give this venerable quest chain a much needed facelift in order to make use of new technologies such as client-side actions and animations along with, dare I say it, an attempt to address the imbalance between the Lunus and Helian forks of the Rite.
The specifics of what might change have not been determined yet, we’re still in the early stages of brainstorming, but our goal is to keep the challenge and enjoyment of this epic scale quest intact while bringing it closer to the standard we have established on New Trismus and the Ruin of Tazoon.
Yes, this is the first public mention of ground-shaking changes to the core combat systems within Istaria. These changes are in their early stages and we’re still doing design and proof-of-concept work, but we wanted to let you know that it is something we’re working on for the future. What specifically will we address? Well, here’s a quick rundown of the major topics in the overhaul:
That is just a taste of the topics we’ll be addressing in this sweeping change of the core systems. Further details including a more detailed description and discussion of the individual changes will be forthcoming at a later date.
Hi there, tech here! There's quite a few things to talk about on Istaria's technical side, but the first thing up is our overall technical development priorities, and this can really be summarized by one thing - fix the bugs. As you're probably aware, there's some not so good issues going on (issues that have been with the game in some cases for its entire life in one way or another), and although making new things is lots of fun, our primary objective has to be to fix these issues. The sector issues, spawn issues, boss super healing and memory problems are all at the top of our priority list and we're pursuing solutions urgently!
We have implemented some pretty neat new things this year (such as the Companion List, plot plan auto-saving, some great technical infrastructure for more immersive quests, and more!), as well as countless technical improvements, FPS optimisations and some very useful additions to our developer toolset - for a very long time, the serverside development on Istaria has been lacking in automation and assistance from tools, with server developers still having to manually read log files and fix typos one at a time, a painful and slow process! So we've taken a quick side track and written some new tools which have automated much of this work, greatly improving our workflow and the speed we can get things done, since our server developers can focus on the big things now and not have to manually do every small task. This is definitely very exciting for us and a big step forward - and these tools are being put to work on the aforementioned server bugs right away!
We'd like to give everyone an explanation of what we know about these bugs and what we intend to do about them, so if you're interested, please read on! A quick note about how Istaria's server works - there are two layers, a core framework written in C++ (what we call “the server”) and game logic (what we call “the simulation”). The vast majority of the code that makes Istaria be Istaria is written in the simulation layer. This part of the code is isolated from the rest of the server, so everything else can continue (like another player’s combat) if there's a code error in the simulation. If an error occurs in the server layer though, the server will crash entirely and this at best will cause downtime while we start it up again, and at worst could be the precursor to a terrible bug that can take the server down multiple times. Over the years we’ve had very minimal downtime, demonstrating the robustness of this model and code organization. Now let's talk about each individual bug:
Sector issues (invisible players / NPCs, being attacked from monsters from really far away, monsters not spawning etc)
We've been trying to track down this bug for a very long time and have been all over the server's sim modules trying to figure out what's causing this, but it was never making any sense. As far as we could tell, there was nothing wrong with any of them, so why were the sectors breaking and the spawns stopping working? Recently, we made a rather startling discovery - the specific game logic wasn’t at fault, but what was actually breaking was one of the core server components which handles periodic timers. Many game systems in Istaria do their work constantly at certain intervals, and to accomplish that they ask the server layer to start a timer, and to tell the sim layer when that timer has expired. We've discovered that sometimes these timers fail to start and this is responsible for these kinds of breakages. This problem has always been around in Istaria in some form or another since the first release but seems to have gotten worse due to hardware and software upgrades. If two timers attempt to enqueue at the exact same nanosecond (for our programmer readers - a mutex collision), one of the timers will fail to start, and this causes things to break since the timer will never restart itself. Faster server hardware, more threads and simulation optimization have resulted in this problem becoming more frequent because doing things faster also means a higher probability of events happening at the same time. A busier shard with more things happening, such as Chaos, is also more prone to experiencing a failed timer somewhere in the world, whereas a quiet testing shard very rarely experiences issues (which frustrated our original attempts to reproduce the issue internally too).
Intentionally slowing the server down is not an option since this will just cause other problems like combat lag. Making changes to the server layer to fix the timers has various technical considerations related to code design, which we’ve been reluctant to do. Recently, a new plan has been hatched - we're going to completely replace the server layer timers with timers at the simulation layer. Once complete, this should resolve these issues! It's very exciting for us to have a workable plan and a way forward with this, but this system needs to be perfect and not introduce any new bugs or performance issues, so we’re carefully writing and optimizing this new section of code. We're confident in the success of this project, but in the event of unforeseen issues we still have a fallback plan of correcting the issue in the server core. One way or another, we will be solving things. This issue of timers represents one of the biggest problems Istaria is currently facing on the technical side - and once this is fixed, we can really start moving things forwards on other fronts.
Boss super healing
As many of the most powerful Gifted can attest to, something that can sometimes be seen on the battlefields against the strongest opponents is the phenomenon of massive regeneration, where a monster will stop doing anything and simply heal constantly - unfortunately this is the result of a bug and not a mechanic, and one we're currently still investigating. This is likely due to a broken timer as discussed above, so once the timers are fixed this issue may very well go away too. We fully understand how frustrating the issue can be for those who encounter it and being able to rule out faulty timers as a cause will be a big relief when trying to track this down!
Memory usage issues
In some places in the game (such as Harro on Chaos) the memory usage of Istaria climbs significantly and this can cause instability. Originally, we weren't aware of how bad this issue was until we started getting reports on the serious issues in places like Harro, at which point this jumped up to the top of our priority list. Memory optimisations and fixes for memory leaks were already being worked on for New Rachival but we always thought that the issue was related to monster texture memory (and the issue also was really confined to the New Rachival and Tazoon area), lack of caching and duplication of textures was resulting in it using too much memory - but it turns out the memory issues in Harro are even worse!
Our investigation has indicated the fault lies partially with how the game generates high-precision physics data; this data is being generated and stored for any object even if no moving object is nearby, which is wasting a noticeable amount of memory (especially when structures are large with a lot of details and there's decorative objects). We're tackling this problem with a two-front approach - only storing physics data for objects that are nearby in memory, and introducing a caching and reuse system for textures which should definitely be a big help. This is the first stage in this memory optimisation project and results are looking very good, once these are in place we'll be investigating further ways to reduce memory usage!
In some situations players have noticed there appears to be delay in combat actions or a lack of responsiveness. Our investigation has turned up that this is a result of issues with how network messages are de-queued and pushed into game systems. We've rewritten the game's netcode to streamline and optimize how messages are processed (this will be fully implemented once the major bugs above have been fixed) and will then test to see how things go. Our goal is to make combat smoother and of course larger combat more viable!
That's our quick overview of what's going on with the tech side of the game - one thing that happens a lot with Istaria's development is our priorities often change whenever a bigger issue appears, but please be assured the bugs are always our highest priority and the above is what we're most focusing on! Once the game is in a stable and bug-free state, then the real fun begins - the adding of new and exciting features, and driving forward by taking the game to the next level!
Hello from the artists once again! Last year, we gave you a deep insight into our process of developing the wyvern models over the years to help you understand our shortcomings as well as our improvements. This year, we do not have as much to offer, but we still hope to offer insight into our end of the game.
As I imagine you are wondering, Visions is still front and center in our development. However, we have not made enough progress to show any visual updates and the first section still does not have any release date planned. The human male model has received more refinement since last showing. The face texture and model has been given more love. As we have come up with a new way to handle armor, we also are able to better shape the underlying body in ways that look better without jeopardizing armor and cosmetics.
Most of what we have been doing, though, is planning. Having a solid plan is extremely important to us for this update. If we go in willy-nilly, we will run into issues or have to cut corners that results in a worse product for you. We want to deliver characters that, while fitting into our more retro visual style, can stand up against more modern MMOs.
While there are still some technical challenges we are figuring out how to overcome, we have made good progress. The art team will be heavily occupied with a certain planned content in 2022, but while we manage that, the technical team will be working to assist us in the biggest technical requirement to make Visions a possibility - an overhaul of our character creator. Stay tuned.
We hope this developer’s desk has given you some new and exciting things to look forward to, many thanks to you, the Istarian community, for your continued support and passion towards Istaria.Thank you for reading through this long insight into the game and our plans. We appreciate you taking the time out of your day to listen to what we have to say. As a reminder, please consider filling out the survey we mentioned earlier in this article. We would greatly appreciate any and all feedback to help us make Istaria a better place for everyone, now and in the future. Click here to see the survey: https://forms.gle/UKNCkC1okL4XS6879
Best wishes for 2022 and onward!
The Team at Virtrium