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Dev Diary — May 2018

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Hello everyone,

Since the last time I updated you in February, the team’s been working hard on a variety of things.

Some have been more “housekeeping” related, like dealing with Unity updates, general performance improvements (as the game continues to get bigger and bigger and our scenes more complex, we have to continuously optimize to make sure performance remains above an acceptable threshold), integrating new tools and features into our development pipeline, and adding new people to our growing development team.

This is all part of our commitment to continue building on the foundation of The Long Dark’s Survival Mode, while also working on new features and content for our Episode One and Two “Redux” (which I first discussed here: http://www.thelongdark.com/news/dev-diary-february-2018/) which is solidifying the foundation for Episode Three and onward.

Let me cherry-pick a few things to share with you at this point. Keep in mind that each of these entries is at a different stage of development and while some of these things will end up in our next Survival Mode update, some will need further polish and tuning before they are ready.

New Region: “River Valley” (placeholder name)

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New waterfall effects in action.

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New approach to landscape layout and tree density helps keep visual interest while forcing players to keep close eye on the horizon.

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River Valley features new rock formations with much steeper verticals.

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Ice caves with bioluminescent moss.

Our goal with this new region is to create an environment that doesn’t have a single human-made shelter on it -- so, even more rugged and isolated than Timberwolf Mountain with its lonely Mountaineer’s Hut. This new region has also been a test-bed of sorts, for a new approach to how we create our environments, including new rocks and more varied tree density. We’ve also added a new type of cave system, redone our waterfalls, and have focused on having the entire region be more of an “environmental” puzzle for you to solve. We’re also experimenting with varying elevations and a range of climbing (or caving) options to find your way around. 

New Gameplay: Manual Cooking

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Cooking around the campfire.

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Different cooking implements offer different benefits.

This is something we’ve been discussing for a long time and our most recent prototypes have proven fruitful to the extent that I feel comfortable sharing them with you. We’ve overhauled the cooking system so that it doesn’t occur in a simple menu interface anymore. Now you have to place food items -- either in cooking vessels like pots or cans, or on their own -- on hot cooking surfaces like stovetops or rocks around a campfire. Each type of cooking source -- whether it be a single-burner stove, a campfire, or a large “cooker” like the one you see in the Pleasant Valley farmhouse, has a number of available “cooking slots”. The cooking times have been tuned (still in progress!) to account for the fact they happen in real-time in the game now -- i.e. not during an accelerated progress bar. We’re still working through a variety of user interface issues with this system but we feel it’s pretty promising. This work has also opened up the possibility of placing items in the world directly from the radial menu, which feels natural and is a much quicker way to manipulate things in the world, vs. having to first drop them from your Pack and manipulate them in placement mode. We’re still working on this but the initial tests are promising!

New Content: Buffer Memories

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The aurora may reveal old mysteries through the words of long-forgotten (or long-frozen?) residents of Great Bear.

I discussed these in my last update, and we have the first series of Buffer Memories in the game. These are basically “lore drops” that will live in Survival Mode, but are only available on certain screens and then only when the Aurora is active. Our first pass on these will be focused on adding some background history to the world, presented as the words of Great Bear residents from days, weeks, or years before the events of The Long Dark. Future Buffer Memory “drops” may also link up to gameplay events or supply caches. Active terminals can be interacted with to read the content, which will then be added to your Survival Journal. We plan to expand this with different display types and even devices.

Redux: Mission Overhaul

We’ve completed our overhaul of the mission structures in our current Episodes One and Two, as part of the “Redux” work. The result is that the mission structure that was almost entirely linear at launch, is now almost entirely open. There are still “critical path” narrative missions that need to be completed before you can move on to the next episode, but many missions can now be completed in any order, and several are completely optional. We’re also adding a new opening to the game, and adding some new “side missions”. 

New System: Dynamic Conversation Interface

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Now that the mission structure has been opened up, we can’t use linear cinematics to present our story anymore. We’ve moved everything into first-person dialogues between Mackenzie and the NPCs, like Grey Mother, and Jeremiah. We’ve also integrated all the Trust unlocks into the main dialogue flow.

To support this, we’ve come up with a new dialogue system. Rather than using the standard cardinal points menu for selecting topics, we’re putting all the topics directly into the world. How topics are presented will tell you something about their relative importance to you, and to the NPC survivors. You’ll quickly be able to pick out the topics that link up to mission content, vs. the ones that are more about providing backstory. Topics that depend on you having sufficient Trust with an NPC will hide in the “background”, and as Trust is gained, they will resolve to become clearer to you, so that eventually they will be selectable. 

This is our way of tying the dialogue in the game more closely to the survivor’s state of mind, and making it feel more like a living, breathing aspect of the story and the characters you meet as you explore. Because of this new system, all dialogue in the game will now be fully voiced.

We’re still working on this but we feel it’s a promising direction, and most importantly it supports a lot of flexibility in terms of when and how we unlock access to content, which means the game will be more dynamic for the player.

New Gameplay: Bear Spear

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This is pretty self-explanatory. The feature is at an early stage so consider this a “tease”.

Episode Three

Not to sound like a broken record, but I’ll share more specific news about Episode Three when I think the time is right. The time is not yet right.

Xbox One X & PS4 Pro Enhancements

Lots of people have been asking us about this. We have a first pass on higher quality visual settings for Xbox One X and PS4 Pro. We’re also working on HDR-support for both. 4k support works on Xbox One X but we’re not sure we’ll be able to get it working on PS4 Pro, due to performance. We’re still working on optimizations and we’ll see where we end up! 

In order to support these enhancements we’ve had to implement an entirely new post-effects pipeline in the game, the side benefit being that we’ll be able to get an improved anti-aliasing and HDR-lighting solution in the game for all our PC players as well!

When Will We Get All This Goodness?

We’re working on a new update to Survival Mode, with a tentative release planned for late May or early June, depending on how testing and finaling goes. Of the above list, you should expect to see the New Region, Manual Cooking, and Buffer Memories. Anything beyond that will come down to testing, optimization, bug-fixing, and finaling progress. As always, our aim is to launch all major updates simultaneously for Steam, Xbox One, and PS4, with GoG and WeGame following shortly thereafter. 

So hopefully the next time you hear something official from me regarding progress, it’ll be to tell you that the new Survival Mode update is ready!

Stay warm out there.

- Raphael

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Seems really good. This update contains very nice innovations. I should say well done!

But on the other hand, i can see that if you can't even talk about Episode 3 yet, this means it is still so far to be released. My best guesses are at the end of 2018 or beginning of 2019, and this delay is literally too much. In my personal view i would like to say that HLS is so busy with making survival game and previous episodes better, they are not truly focusing on new episode and accepting to make it slow process. I am sure that i am not the only one who doesn't like to play survival modes without story. And this acts will obviously cause losing the attention of players like me. Yes what they're doing with survival mode is really amazing. But first 2 episodes were great. Was it really necessary to rework on them? I think no game developers should spend most of their time to make the past better. They should learn from the past and make future better with experience. I can see this on Telltale games. They're releasing seasons with long time intervals but they always release episodes with short time intervals. They don't try to make their first season better, but next seasons always gets better than previous ones. I believe this would be the right move for a game developer. This way they could release episodes more often and keep players warm with the game. What i think as a player is more than 1 year  is truly too much time for a single episode. This way it will take so much time to see the end. (If i don't forget the existance of TLD until then.) As a story follower i am not caring other news that much. I follow the news about episode three as often as i can, but every diary it ends up with disappointment. I really LOVED this game when the first time i finished it. And i am waiting for next episode for almost a year. I can say that i am out of patience and i lost my desire to play it now.

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Bioluminescence....need I say more???

Kudos for your continuing drive, creativity and unique way of tackling the countless challenges you face from the community and probably more so from your own drive for greatness! 

Love the idea of inserting dialogue into the scene. Will definitely revisit story. Loper will definitely become more interesting with the Valley. So stoked! 

If you left the game as is, I’d still be pining over TLD! Thank you for your awesome vision Raph and your team’s realization.

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Real-time cooking, reworked environnement, bear-spear, a new map, episodes 1 and 2 fully voiced, reworked missions : I love you Hinterland.

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No way!

Entirely wild region? This is the best feature ever! I can't believe you guys actually did it! 

Not to mention improved cooking and a spear.

Thank you Hinterland people! You guys and girls are truly one of a kind game studio!

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Finally, we'll be able to access the region that's viewable from Milton! However, what I am not so keen on is the fact that the region seemed very small when I last went in there (via walls in Story Mode); if it connects Mountain Town to Pleasant Valley, then I think that it'll be enough.

Waterfalls received a nice graphics update, but will anything else come of it? Will we be able to gather water from the waterfalls?

Bear Spear is interesting- a spear made out of bear hide, or perhaps one that is good at killing bears? Nonetheless, it's good to see a weapon either than guns or a bow&arrow. 

I am overall very excited, and am glad that they are going quite nicely.

 

PS: Having 2 dev diaries so close to each other in terms of time is a great improvement. i hope that you continue this way in the future :)

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I think this all sounds great, and is definitely another step in the right direction!

8 hours ago, Le Petit Prince said:

But first 2 episodes were great. Was it really necessary to rework on them?

You raise a good question. I think most of us can relate to the feeling where you are forced to submit something because of a deadline before you really felt "finished" with it. Hinterland has the opportunity here to go back and fix things they weren't satisfied with. All I can say is that if they actually implement these changes in the redux, I will be much more likely to recommend the story mode to friends.

8 hours ago, Le Petit Prince said:

I am sure that i am not the only one who doesn't like to play survival modes without story.

It seems that for every person who wants Hinterland to focus on developing the story, there is another person who prefers them to spend their time adding to survival mode. Some people want the episodes that were promised many years ago to be the team's priority, while others want survival mode which has been the main draw and lifeblood of the game to be the principle recipient of the developers' time. We all love this game for different reasons, and Hinterland is in the tough position of trying to make everyone happy.

Me? I say forget Story vs. Survival. Give us more Challenges! :P

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2 hours ago, velonews said:

I think most of us can relate to the feeling where you are forced to submit something because of a deadline before you really felt "finished" with it.

Thank you for your answer. Episode 3 deadline was announced to be "Later on 2017 into the 2018" though. Still i don't say that you're wrong. But here let me make myself clear about what i tried to say:

I am digital artist and even a single art takes my hours. When i look at it weeks later after i finished it, i see tons of mistakes. Because in those weeks i get better. The point is surely if i work on that art more it will get better. Even now if i go back and keep working on the same picture for hours, for years, it will get closer to be flawless. But it will prevent me to do different arts. If i don't accept my previous arts with their flaws i get stuck on them. After finishing something, we should always move on and try not to do those mistake in the next work.

They can add infinitely things to the first 2 episodes, they can correct tons of things and make good innovations. But if this be their priority task we will never see another episode. We will always see the same thing with better forms.

2 hours ago, velonews said:

It seems that for every person who wants Hinterland to focus on developing the story, there is another person who prefers them to spend their time adding to survival mode. Some people want the episodes that were promised many years ago to be the team's priority, while others want survival mode which has been the main draw and lifeblood of the game to be the principle recipient of the developers' time. We all love this game for different reasons, and Hinterland is in the tough position of trying to make everyone happy.

 

Of course they cannot make everyone happy at the same time. But i am not asking for something extra. I'm just asking for what have been promised before i buy this game. I finished the story last summer and waiting for the next episode almost a year. Checking the news everyday and get disappointed. I don't say "leave the sandbox area and don't develope it anymore". All i say is "Okay, sandbox and first 2 episodes are pretty great right now. It is time to focus on new episode. It is already late."

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The river region sounds good, looking forward to what it has to offer. Obviously it has a lot wildlife but all the more "wild" regions have something more going on ( TWM has the supply plane, FM has the forge ). Maybe we will get some use for the bioluminescent moss ? Make it happend Hinterland ! :D 

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I'm really surprised because I made the mistake to leave this game because of my laptop. it can't run this game without overheating, and I didn't play for over a YEAR! this was a mistake because I love this game so much. I'm just glad that when I came back it's still here and becoming even better than ever. but alas I am back and I can actually play the game.

look alive Hinterland

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Manual Cooking ... That one is gong to be a huge gameplay changing factor. Lovely! :D

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22 hours ago, admin said:

Redux: Mission Overhaul

We’ve completed our overhaul of the mission structures in our current Episodes One and Two, as part of the “Redux” work. The result is that the mission structure that was almost entirely linear at launch, is now almost entirely open. There are still “critical path” narrative missions that need to be completed before you can move on to the next episode, but many missions can now be completed in any order, and several are completely optional. We’re also adding a new opening to the game, and adding some new “side missions”. 

This has me pretty excited. My main gripe with the original version of Wintermute was that the linearity made me feel like a passive observer to the story rather than an active participant, which in turn left me struggling to value my own decisions and choices as having any impact or significance to what would happen next. The new mission structure looks like a huge improvement, which I'm really looking forward to.

My other gripe was that the trust system was (to put it bluntly) complete rubbish. It's potential was to build a meaningful relationship between the player's own decision making and the NPCs' attitude towards you and willingness to give you help. But in practice it felt like a needless, tacked-on waste of time of an afterthought. (Spamming the endless supply of bandages to Grey Mother didn't feel like it should be gaining me much real "trust" with a person, while the rewards  often felt tedious, unnecessary, or irrelevant to your progress.)

The new interface for communicating with NPCs looks promising, but I really hope there will also be a much more dynamic relationship between the Trust you earn and the availability of missions/help from NPCs. It would make them feel much more like real people, and less like generic to-do list inboxes.

 

P.S. The Survival Mode additions look very, very interesting, too!

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Now I'm glad I haven't played the Story Mode yet. :)

These updates sound interesting. Dare I say exciting? B|

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One thing I hope gets worked on in the story is the game breaking bugs.....like where you need to go collect something but you did it before you even knew it was a quest so now you cannot progress.

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Posted (edited)

Thanks for the update @adminand, of course, for the ongoing work on TLD.

New region:

I think an all-wilderness region has been missing so far, and it will be interesting what it brings to the table. I would presume caves play a fundamental role there as shelter. New regions are always interesting and will entertain those who love exploration above all. Personally, however, I am more interested in changes which give new aspects to gameplay in the already existing regions.

Manual Cooking:

This has been requested by many players over time. Personally, I don't think it is necessary, as I could always accept the current cooking as being part of the TLD game mechanics. New cooking mechanics will require a lot of rebalancing. For example, if you can do something else while your food is cooking, that will make the game as such easier since you can do more survival work within the same time. So there needs to be a counterbalance for that, or in other words: something else needs to be made more difficult. Manual cooking also opens up a lot of questions, since it touches numerous other game mechanics. Is there a set time for things to cook? Can you cook things too little (food poisoning, parasites) or too much (they burn or lose nutritional value)? Can you fry things, bake them, or is there only cooking? Lots of questions will need to be solved in a convincing manner.

Buffer Memories:

I'm looking forward to these. Discovering hidden background stories does much for my immersion in the game and its lore. I am also hoping for more collectable written notes like the one found in the Mountaineer's Hut.

Mission Overhaul:

Opening up the mission structure is probably a good thing. I hope that we will get to make real choices and see consequences of our actions. In the sense that if we do something - even in an optional side mission - it will have a certain effect. It would be awesome if some of these effects would revisit us later in the game. Like in Mass Effect when characters we saved in earlier episodes would turn up again later in the game, even if it is just to drop in for a chat.

Dynamic Conversation Interface:

Not sure if that will be much of an improvement, I guess I will have to see it first. The current conversation tree is sometimes confusing, maybe that will be improved. On the other hand, I would not want the game to give me too much guidance into which direction the conversation should be going. Anyway, an interesting change, and I'm looking forward to it.

Bear Spear:

I know this item will not some soon, if at all, but if I could make a suggestion: It should just be called 'spear' and not 'bear spear'. Because it would be very strange if it only helped against bears, but not against wolves and moose. It seems also obvious that a bear spear would require an overhaul of the fighting mechanics, ot in other words: a very central mechanic of the game. That will not be exactly easy. So I'm a bit on the fence about this one. Still, being able to craft a spear does make sense and will make things more realistic. So in the end I hope this will turn out to be a step forwards.

Edited by Hotzn

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I was just thinking, with the manual cooking we might need other little things to do while the food sits there. Something like introducing minor repairs or reinforcement on clothing which are very quick so that you can do it while cooking. Or allow us to pick up branches so we can break them apart while cooking. Or maybe(is this already in the game?) we can half skin a rabbit, check our food, then finish the timer. Or perhaps if bone/stone tools are added we could work on them without a crafting bench by the fire. Just off the top of my head. As someone who mass cooks 40L of water and 40kg of meat in one sitting I can see this taking a really long time to do. Of course if you change fire into a renewable(magnifying glass doesn't count because you need to find it) I wouldn't mass cook like this.

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4 hours ago, Hotzn said:

Can you cook things too little (food poisoning, parasites) or too much (they burn or lose nutritional value)?

To me, this seems to be the only real purpose of adding the new mechanic. If you can't over/under cook something, then why make the player sit there waiting and watching instead of speeding up time, if the result is the same? To allow you to complete other tasks in the mean time and thereby use that time (as a resource!) more productively? Possibly, but the gameplay balance doesn't really require that, as you say. Given that cooking times are relatively short compared to other tasks that you might want to do while you wait, I don't think you're going to get all that much extra done. The main advantage will be the ability to cook multiple items at the same time (depending on the type of cooker) - that will be a big change, and for the better, I think.

I'm also interested in whether these changes, especially given the use of pots and pans now, will extend to collection and melting/boiling of snow. I hope so!

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Posted (edited)

Thanks for the update - some really interesting stuff there.

However, the real-time cooking has me worried. I'm just afraid it will be too much waiting for food to cook, and it will be mind-numbingly boring. Then again, you might say, survival-game players have little issue with 'boring', fair enough.

Maybe if in the same process you scaled down on the absurd and constant need to eat, making eating food something special and not some grind to constantly stuff yourself with food.

A person eating 1kg of cooked meat in one go would:

  • Probably get sick from overeating.
  • Feel no need for food the next 24 hours (at least).
  • Need to lie down on the nearest couch.
  • Have massive and quite painful constipation.

In TLD eating 1kg of meat barely fills your stomach half-way..

If preparing and eating food could be made something not done constantly then maybe it would work, if not I'm afraid it would be boring for a lot of players.

 

Edited by Shadrach

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Posted (edited)

Thanks @admin and all the team at HL. I've only had this game a month (love it) and, while I prefer survival, I appricate your efforts to develop both aspects. Spear - awesome. Cooking - bit scary (what @Shadrach said) but I'm trusting you! New wild area - exciting! Will there be some 'outdoor' cave there thats stable enough sleep in on interloper? Gonna be fun finding out... deadly fun I expect. Cool to hear the climbing aspect is being pushed further (someone must like their mountaineering in your studio!). Just drop me some crampons to stop me slipping so much on these slopes...

Edited by Stone

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I'm just coming back to the game after a long hiatus, and this stuff looks great!  In particular I'm looking forward to the story presentation changes, new zone and new cooking system.

I'd guess cooking in "real" game time will make the days pass slower, because we'll less real life time spent in accelerated tasks.  But maybe not.  Maybe multitasking other stuff while cooking will make the days go just as fast.   Either way, I love the immersion of the campfire and stovetop cooking shown in the screenies.

More wilderness is a huge plus in my book too.  In my current game I'm exploring Mountain Town for the first time in the sandbox.  Loving Milton Basin!  I'm passing my days in the cave there, hoping for a moose to show up.   It's giving me the FM feels, without the thin ice (which I don't miss at all :P).

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If this means you'll be able to read a book while waiting for a cup of tea to be ready... well, rabbit skin slippers are going in the Wishlist ;)  Of course it could mean being so engrossed in 'A sewing primer' that your venison steak gets burnt to a crisp... :/ hmm.

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