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Alpha 1.8 Graphical Update | General Improvements | Vlog++

Monday, June 14th

Hello everyone, we’re releasing our 1.8 update to our default Steam branch today. This update is a beast. If it’s not our biggest, it’s right up there. James will take you through most of what the team has accomplished in the 1.8 Vlog. Below you’ll find a rather detailed breakdown of what has gone into 1.8.

The graphical update has been a long time coming. Andre is our environmental artist, the man responsible for the majority of general world design. While Jos handles level design, the world you walk around in is Andre's. When we started these builds quite a few years ago, Andre created the world, the vegetation maps, the heightmaps, all the road placement, etc. After the builds really started to come together and we went unlisted, something else happened. The rest of Survive the Nights needed development.

While James is our project manager and lead programmer, Andre in most aspects is his right hand man. Core game features redeveloping and developing in the first place. A massive first project for a 4 man team and far too much work for a single programmer. A lot of what goes into a game is never seen and a lot of those pieces fell into Andre's lap. Years of development have gone by with Andre never really getting to update his initial environment. 1.8 is the start to something we’ve wanted to do for some time now. While it’s a massive chunk of design improvements, it’s by no means our last. The team has a lot of future ideas waiting to be implemented.

The general graphical and environmental improvements are a large chunk of this update but they are not the only improvements. We’ve worked on connectivity improvements and introduced a partial solution. UPnP will be utilized via Open NAT which will help a lot of players with automatic port forwarding. This won’t solve everyone's issues since automatic port forwarding isn’t supported by some routers and in others it just doesn’t work as expected. That change combined with a slightly sleeker UI and things like automatic IP and port assignment should make connecting a bit easier for around 50% of players.

We’ve also introduced in-game friend invites via Steam Rich Presence. You’ll now be able to host and invite friends to your own server directly via the in game menu and tab list. You can also invite players via Steam's overlay or directly in the steam app via your friends list.

There are a lot more pieces to the 1.8 puzzle and, as always, you can check out most all of the changes via our Changelog. We’ll be updating to reflect current progress and adding new goals for 1.9 and beyond. Below is a recap of the last couple of months of 1.8 progress.

Graphical Update

We have made a ton of graphical progress with 1.8. We’ve worked on replacing and adding vegetation. We’ve adjusted forest density making the woodlands thicker and far creepier to navigate. Water systems have been reworked, reflections have been reworked, interior lighting, ambient lighting, weather effects, etc. Many major changes have been implemented in 1.8 and we’re excited to let you see them.

Water and Reflections

The Issues

Water has always been a thorn in Andre's side. The team has never been happy with the original or updated water situation. We’ve had a handful of placeholders in the past few years, none of which were particularly good. A major issue the team faced with water is transparency and how out of place it looked in the world. Most of the transparency issues were caused by our fog system rendering incorrectly. It just never blended well with the world and during early development we simply didn’t have the time to dedicate to issues like this.

There are also topographical challenges on the island. Black Island has rivers that flow into oceans along with lakes and smaller bodies of water. 1.8 also introduces swamps which is another added level of complexity. It has been a challenge to make these intersecting and flowing bodies of water look good.

The Outcome

Our new reflection system is now properly simulated in real time based on different times of the day and the reflection probes created. Reflections will also be dimmed in interiors so as to not stand out. The results look rather fantastic. They’ll be part of our new Ultra graphic setting. Below are a few examples of our old system and our new reflection system on high and ultra.

The system uses a real time reflection probe and dummy assets to create a realistic looking reflection probe perfectly suitable for most situations. This system also goes hand in hand with our new water shaders, a massive improvement over the last.

We've managed to find a compromise with our fog that makes it possible to use transparent water without it looking out of place. This, in combination with the new reflection system, allowed us to finally find a different solution that looks better and isn't too heavy on performance. The transparency really brings bodies of water to life and edge blending makes the waters edge feel far more realistic. This also works well on all kinds of work surfaces. You’ll notice the change in wet pavement and stonework too.

Old reflection system on ultra graphical settings

New reflection system on high graphical settings

New reflection system on ultra graphical settings

Before and After

Improved Weather Effects

Ahead of weather affecting the player, (something we’ll be working on shortly) we’ve taken some time to improve our current weather effects. The system as it is now does the job but it’s rather drab. Our current rain and snow system only allows for particles to move directly downward due to performance and collision concerns. The new system allows us a bit more freedom and you’ll notice that instantly in both rain and snow. The particles now blow around and move with the storm. This dramatically changes the entire vibe of the weather system.

Before and after - wet roads and rain

Vegetation and Environmental Detail

Andre has completely reworked the vegetation and forest density in-game. The wilds are more dense with tall grasses, bushes and new props like deadfall. Improved rock textures tie it all together along with new stone walls. We’ve improved on tree density along with reworking tree systems to allow for trees to lean. This seemingly small detail really does wonders to bring the forest to life. We’ll be reworking tree mechanics in the coming quality of life builds.

Before and after - forest density

Particle Effects

For some time now we’ve wanted to introduce world particles. Over the course of 1.8’s development, with the help of James, Jos was able to program and implement the initial system. This system will allow us to expand and introduce all kinds of cool looking goodies. Trash particles will now blow around the world creating a very creepy vibe. Leaves and vegetation will also flow with the air. This seemingly small effect really does a lot to improve the world. It’s something the team would love to expand on so if you have any particle ideas feel free to share them.

Lighting Optimizations

We’ve really gone all out when it comes to ambient lighting as well. This greatly improves the general tone of the game. Ambient lighting has the correct color to it now. This alone makes for a far more realistic look. You’ll also notice this inside structures. We are finally happy with darkness levels in structures, appearing far darker than before. You’ll notice this darkness even during the day when you’re in the interiors and walking through the forests.

While our current lighting system is pretty nice looking, it’s not perfect and it’s not at all optimized. Structure lighting was always heavy on performance mostly due to the need of multiple light sources for a single light fixture. We have found ourselves often using one spot and one point light to simulate light bounce. This improvement removes the need for bouncelights by adding a cubemap mask. This will improve the general look of lighting along with making shadows/gradients easier on the eyes as well as generally just improving the performance overhead of lighting.

Vehicle headlights have been turned into a single light source instead of a spotlight and point light saving tons of batches. Exterior lighting has seen its share of improvements. We've reduced batching and implemented a 3d cookie system for a nicer overall look.

Interior lighting - before and after.

Ambient lighting at sunrise

Midday ambient lighting forested area

Just after daybreak

Improved Textures and Design

You’ll instantly notice a difference in textures and design. We’ve updated, replaced and improved numerous textures. Along with that, we’ve not just added but also replaced props we’re not happy with. Among numerous new props and textures are kitchen cabinets, fireplaces, junk piles, etc. The vibe is creepier than ever. We’ll be continuing design improvements after our early game polish builds.

Living room - before and after

Kitchens - before and after

Fireplace - before and after

New Biomes Swamps and Marshland

Swampland has a naturally creepy vibe to it. There are some classic horror movies and games that take place in them. The swamps on Black Island are wet, foggy and isolated. They're almost screaming out for some gators. You'll find the swamplands feel like large clusters of small islands amidst murky algae-covered water. Isolated cabins, run down shacks and thick wood lines and vegetation all add to a nice swamp vibe.

Marshland is a bit more open so you'll be able to see zeds or players coming. They're still wet like swamps and they're composed of many small islands surrounded by smelly water :p. You'll notice thick vegetation but fewer trees. Cabins populate some of the small marsh islands and you'll find new connecting walkways between them. These spots will likely be ideal in future builds especially when it comes to fishing and crabbing.



Connectivity Improvements and Steam Rich Presence

The introduction of our hosting/solo tabs came with 1.7 and we’ll be working the issues out as we move forward. We’ve introduced a partial solution for connection issues. This is something that should help a good deal of those. If the UPnP OpenNAT system doesn’t automatically fix your hosting issues, we’ll have a better idea as to what’s going wrong. If the UPnP system proves to not be effective enough, we’ll add a facilitator based punch through server. A facilitator server along with relay servers should make connections possible even when punch through just isn’t.

James has made some great progress this week streamlining the process and UI surrounding it.

Upon digging into the UPnP rework, he decided to further expand the implementation to give the user more feedback around port status. We’ve simplified the setup and removed the need to infill the IP manually. We’ve created a port checker that is embedded directly in the UI to check if ports are open before attempting to start and join a server.

Something that has been missing for quite some time is Steam's Rich Presence integration. The player now has access to Linux server files, additional hosts and the ability to host your own server from in-game.

Players will now have the ability to join friends directly from their Steam friend list. Along with the ability to invite and join, you’ll notice status updates. Players will be able to see what friends and other players are doing. Whether it be fortifying, healing, fighting zombies, driving or even riding shotgun, your player status should update nicely.

When we first envisioned Survive the Nights, it was as a co-op experience, a zombie survival game you could pick up with a couple of friends, hunker down and have a good time killing things. The ability to invite a friend to a game/server has been missing since launch. It didn’t seem reasonable to dedicate development time pre-hosting. Now that players have the ability to host from in-game or via a linux stand alone server/provider, it seems the perfect time to do so. We have now added a good deal of Steam integration.

You will first notice the ability to invite friends directly to the server you’re playing on. You’ll be able to do so whether you’re hosting the server or you’re on a public server. This is made even easier if you’re using the Steam Overlay (shift-tab).

James has also added the ability to invite friends directly from the game. Holding tab will bring up what was previously the in-game player list. Pressing tab now brings up the player/friends list and you’ll be able to invite any of your Steam friends from this menu. We have tried to make this process as easy and seamless as possible. As an example, if you’re hosting a password protected server your friends will be added to a dynamic whitelist. This will bypass the requirement for them to enter a password. You will also be able to join friends in this same manner via the Steam friends list or our in game player/friend list.

Updated Host Tab with Friends List

In-game friend list

Post version 1.8

The design update is really exciting for us! It will bring the graphics up to date and reflects our own development in terms of what we’re able to achieve. That being said, everyone is super excited to get finished up on the update and get it released. We have a lot planned for the future versions of the game but in the shorter term... probably Alpha version 1.9 and 2.0 we’ll be focusing on early game and quality of life fixes.

We all feel it’s time to tie up the loose ends. As nice as it is to just develop freely and work on cool features, the game needs to work nicely and have good retention for early game. That will allow the community to grow with less friction. We can’t stress enough how helpful it would be if you could let us know what your biggest frustrations are. As always, thank you for the continued support. We hope you all enjoy Alpha 1.8. We’re very excited for the coming improvement builds and growing the community with a more polished product.


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