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Illuvium Dev Blog — December 2021


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Illuvium Dev Blog — December 2021

Intro

Firstly, I want to thank all of our supporters for the last year and wish everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from the bottom of my heart. It’s incredible what can happen in such a short amount of time if everything goes just right. I can certainly think of some challenges and setbacks that we have had, but this has been a smooth year if I’m honest. Many things could have gone wrong that didn’t, and we should be thankful for that.

I would also like to thank all the Core Contributors, even those no longer working on the project. Kieran had a vision early on that hiring experts exclusively and giving them ownership would be the best way forward, and he was right. Many of them came either directly through connections Grant has made over the years or by word of mouth. We have some great leaders on the team now. I think some of them are even a bit shocked at what they were capable of. They have pushed themselves hard and shown that even the impossible is possible. My contribution to the project continues to diminish simply because the output from everyone else continues to ramp up. But I’m committed to managing this project as best I can and adding some small insights here and there.

So thanks again for all your support. And here’s to 2022 — the big one.

Governance

DAO Governance Dashboard

We continue building out a DAO dashboard to make governance more transparent. Recently some interviews have focused on getting to a fully decentralised state. It will take a lot of hard work and more than a bit of time, but this is a step in the right direction.

Governance Update

It’s the start of a new epoch, and for the first time, a Core Contributor (Kieran) is on the Council. I think this is a great thing. Having a single seat on the Council means that control is still firmly in the hands of the community, but with some more intimate contact with us as a team. This is important to lowering the friction and creating the game.

Business and Partnerships

DAO updates

Some cool things are happening in the background that I can’t go into here. Still, as time goes on, more and more governments will start to recognise DAOs, giving us some certainty around exactly what our rights and responsibilities are. In the end, this will mean only good things, no matter what restrictions are in place.

We believe this will have some cool knock-on effects regarding additional revenue streams outside of the main games.

Capital Raise

We are building a platform that allows investors to purchase locked tokens. This should stabilise us through the game’s initial launch and give us some additional capital to pull forward the game’s mobile version. We want to do two things, but we can’t purely because of the timing. Extra funding means that we can start both early. All I can say is that the game will vastly improve once we get these things done, and we can’t wait to start.

Guild Partnerships

We have started partnerships with many new guilds, including Merit Circle, Polemos, and YGG and are working with them to build a system that will allow seamless onboarding of scholars into their system.

Marketing

Land Sale

This is an area that we have been steadily improving behind the scenes without manifesting on the surface in a pronounced way. This will change next month since the marketing team has not only been able to build up to the point of being a natural force, but they have also been able to guide us with various projects. You’ll see a lot more content creation, explainer videos, tutorials, and live events from them. I’m super excited to see it.

Illuvium Zero Trailer

Grant is currently working on a 30-second trailer. It isn’t on the same scale as the gameplay reveal, but we think it will help people understand the mini-game more clearly.

Illuvium Game

Overworld

Client-side infrastructure for the mining, encounter and harvesting flows is complete. This means that as soon as the backend is ready, we can hook it all up and start playing the game on the blockchain.

The map and minimap have also been implemented, including a basic fast travel system. Even though the regions aren’t huge, they are still big enough that it can be a pain to travel back and forth. So we give players the chance to set up some teleport beacons so that they can fast travel when they want. Little things like this will increase the player’s quality of life and add to the world’s lore. It may be the case that these inclusions will become pivotal down the road as we increase the size of the game and look towards a more persistent world.

In addition to this, we’ve made camera improvements as well as implemented a basic inventory and increased the quality of our movement. I’ve instructed the team to build out these functionalities quickly without overthinking about polish for now because we need to get all the pieces together and interacting so that we can start playtesting larger gameplay loops. The great thing I’ve noticed about the team is that their 75% is better than many people’s 100%, so I’m not at all worried about the game feeling rough. Some polishing is needed, but everyone should understand we start as a public beta, and the most important thing is getting a solid main loop that is stable. The rest of 2022 will be about getting the game up to OUR 100% and finalising all the features.

Autobattle

The move to a hex-based grid is now finalised, and the pathing is much smoother. There are still some optimisations needed to reduce the compute time, but we are already working on those. In addition to that, the visualisation of the battle board has improved, and we now highlight the hexes that an illuvial is placed on. Later on, this will expand to include subtle lighting for zones and beams so you will be able to know for sure if your combat unit is in the firing line.

There have been several camera improvements to constrain it in intelligent ways. No more seeing the insides of an Illuvial’s skull. That was some solid nightmare fuel.

The simulation is now also precomputed at the start of the game, which allows us to mitigate some performance loss and gives us the option to do several ‘polish passes’ on the events in the battle. You can smooth out movement and track things in much more clever ways when you know the future. We are probably only utilising 5% of this power right now, but there will be some substantial updates in the future. Most of this will probably happen post-launch.

We missed the target on Survival Mode. It’s a game, and we play it internally, but we need more Illuvials imported, and the different weapons for the Rangers imported. The backend systems also are not finished yet. And Survival Mode has five versions in our game design document, so technically, what we test in the private beta won’t even be the final form. I guess what I am getting at is that there is still a lot to do even after launch. But we’re committed to getting the first game perfect before moving on to Illuvium: Hearts Ablaze. (The tech required to highlight Rhamphyre’s cheekbones is just not quite there yet. If you aren’t sure if I’m joking or not, good.)

What remains to be done? Besides importing enough Illuvials, we still need to finish the synergy system and finalise all the UI elements. It’s a lot of work. Although we’re continuously working on optimisation, you’ll probably have to have a decent rig to get into the beta because it won’t be in a state that allows low-level PCs to play with a high framerate for a little while.

The final piece of the puzzle is authentication. Remember, we need to allow accounts and connect through Unreal Engine, and we are writing that all ourselves. There’s no plugin for stuff that doesn’t exist! Our authentication will be reasonably robust because we need to cater to many different situations. For example, in the land sale, you won’t need to make an account; just connect a wallet. But for the game, you will need an account. Your game account WITH your wallet will act as a type of two-factor authentication which will be very cool.

Illuvium Zero

The team working on IZ is only tiny. And the scope of the game has increased, which is why there have been delays with the game. Also, it turns out we don’t like putting things in people’s hands until we are happy with it. There has been a game here for at least a month, but we needed to add more art to feel immersive. One of the challenges is that we planned on only having three regions complete at launch (One region will be live, with two more unlocked soon after). But for IZ, we need to have all regions. So we have had to work hard to get the other regions’ look dev done to complete the backgrounds and tiles.

Just a warning, it could be that there has been more dev time into the tileset for some regions compared to others. But the gameplay will be the same, and any deficits will be worked on post-launch.

Authentication is also complete. Unity was marginally easier than Unreal, but we wrote everything ourselves. The UI needs polish, though.

The final piece of the IZ puzzle is optimisation. Even though it is a mobile game, we use high-quality assets, and at the moment, you need a higher-end phone to play it at excellent frame rates. We haven’t done any work here yet, so we aren’t worried.

Game Design

Oh my God, the spreadsheets. Please, I pray to our lord and saviour TensorFlow, save us from the sheets!

Blockchain

Staking V2

The external audit by QuantStamp is done. We are working with them to resolve the issues. We need to make sure this is done correctly, so we need to be sure that they fully understand what we are trying to do; we also need to test it extensively. The complexity is much higher this time around, and since we are talking about the migration of existing contracts, we have to be extra cautious. But it’s there.

Land Sale

Because we are doing this as decentralised as possible, there’s a lot of work to do. Our internal audit is finished and resolved, and now the team is helping the backend and web teams integrate it. It’s deployed on Rinkeby and being tested as we speak.

IlluviDEX

For those that don’t know, the Land Sale will take place in the IlluviDEX. Effectively, the IlluviDEX is a tremendous app that contains the ability to run events such as the Land Sale and Illuvitars. Over time it will host even more. This means it needs to be robust. It will even need to accommodate the Balancer Fuel Pool. Effectively, if you are doing some transaction in the Illuvium Universe, it will go through this.

We have done an internal review of the features, including two types of auctions. There have been some hurdles, and we still need to add more functionality, but it’s starting to come together.

The reason it has taken so long is not that we’ve gone slow, but because I didn’t appreciate just how much work there would be to do on it, especially considering the BEST version includes incredibly tight integration with everything else. We could have just said ‘you can list things’ and be done with it. But that’s not us.

Illuvitars

The internal review has finished, and everything has been resolved. We are now implementing the latest changes to the requirements that have come about because of additions by the concept art team. As a side note, we empower all of our teams to help us design the systems that they create. Illuvitars started as something better than all the other avatar projects but has since become something that isn’t even in the same league. If Illuvitars was a person and I compared it to what else is on the market, Illuvitars would disown me.

For anyone who doesn’t know, these systems usually work because you have a single base template from which you hook up all the random features. The difference is that with Illuvitars, we don’t have a single base template; we have over 150. Remember, we have to make one for each Illuvial, and THEN we need to add enough randomness to make them unique. We have added expressions that help with this, which means that the base portrait has many variations PER ILLUVIAL. We’re also incorporating borders, finishes, and many backgrounds. This is in addition to the fact that you can get accessories to customise your Illuvitar.

Web

Private Beta Reg

We are nearly there. I still get nightmares from that beta registration channel. A discord channel would never cut it, and we apologise for those we confused. What we’ve been working on is better. And will serve as the foundation for all our registrations. Remember, we plan to release many games and have many private betas.

IlluviDex and Land Sale

Although mainly done since the start of the month, there have been alterations to the user experience and user interface. The front end is almost complete, and the team is currently focusing on connecting the UI to blockchain and the backend.

Staking v2

The user experience is done. And it was tough to turn something very complex into something easy to understand. We learned a lot about sticking to the agreed-upon language. I’d like to think this is something that I have helped the team with. Often they just want to plough forward with features, but sometimes it is best to take a step back and make sure everyone is on the same page. In chat, you’ll see we are cautious about explaining what things mean and the definitions. This will go a long way to solving the issues we had with Staking v1. Not to mention the tutorials that marketing is cooking up.

Game Backend

Authentication

The new authentication system is being rolled out. It is refined for security and integrated across all services. You’ll see it first in the public beta registration. (As a bonus feature, we managed to fit nicknames into the initial release, but sorry, Squeakypuff is taken)

Public Beta Backend

This is one of the things that has slowed us down a touch. I mentioned it last month, and we are still looking for some good people. I will say that some of the people on the team that don’t specifically work in this area DO have this experience, so we’re also trying to find ways to bring on people for unrelated projects so that they can hop in and help out with the backend.

I will say that in their defence, there is one feature that I demanded early on, which technically doesn’t NEED to be there. But for various reasons I can’t get into right now, I think it will be critical in the months to come. The average player will never know about it, and that’s how it should be. But it will make their experience better and give us some agility.

IlluviDEX

Performance is a huge focus. There will be thousands of people using it, and we want their experience to be as smooth as possible. We’re working on introducing some new techs such as elastic search to make sure we’re striking a good balance between speed and flexibility.

EDIT: And just like that, Elastic Search is integrated… on Christmas Day.

Infrastructure

This is always the area I find the hardest to write about. One reason is that it’s the area I have the least experience with, but the main one is that it’s not the sort of ‘sexy’ thing that players care about. I’m committed to learning more from the team. I don’t think I’ll ever know enough to help their decisions much, but I want to become more conversant in their language.

But make no mistake; These guys do a lot for the game and effectively make development much easier for the rest of the team. Things like automated builds of the games, patches, etc.… will all be organised here. They also take care of much of the web security, which they have ramped up in recent weeks.

It’s also the case that I can’t tell you about many cool things they do because it relates to our security strategy. This is something we would prefer to stay internal.

In short, they are the glue that holds the rest of the dev team together, and long term, they will be the people making sure your experience is as seamless as possible.

Data Analytics

AI Balance

We’ve completed the next steps in implementing our AI training in the cloud. This will allow for estimates of AI quality vs training costs. In conjunction with the simulation optimisations, this means we should be able to do a lot more training.

We’re running on incomplete data right now because not every Illuvial has been implemented, and as such, we need to do some clever things for balance. I’m always impressed with the amount of thought that goes into this stuff.

Land Sale

Have you ever thought about how we choose which 20,000 land plots will go in the first sale? There are 100,000 total, and they are spread across several regions. I mean, seriously, just sit down and try to work out how you would do it. I’m sure you’ll come across a vast range of hurdles that you wouldn’t have thought of at the start. We’ve gone through this process, and the result is a ‘gravity effect’ that clumps the plots together while still giving a nice organic spread. This means you’ll be able to buy land with no neighbours OR buy clumps of nine. (You might want to get in quick to secure a 3x3, though!)

Survival Mode

Spawning waves for Survival Mode requires its own algorithm. It also needs to be done to manage new versions in the future efficiently. There will probably be two long — term modes of the game — one with a fixed set of waves each day and one with a random wave generator. The second will probably be faster paced and tied to in-game yield.

QA

We have a small QA team that looks for bugs and has systematised much of that work. This is crucial to get right before private beta to quickly push out updates when people find issues in the wild.

Production

Outsourcing

This is another ‘unsexy’ area, but we are making great strides. We have several outsourcing studios doing work for us, and integrating them in a way that allows seamless communication without any wasted time is hard. But we’ve done a lot of that legwork now.

Project Management

Our push to become more project-focused is underway. We have dedicated people for the more complex, multi-discipline projects such as the IlluviDEX, and for everything else, I try to hold it together myself.

Story

I’m going to be coy and say, ‘more to come later’. Also, my fingers hurt.

Concept Art

Illuvitars

We are fleshing out the illuvitars even further. There are only two bases left, and we are working on the backgrounds, borders, and accessories.

Illuvitar Promos

We finalised the storyboard for the Illuvitar promo video, and production will start in January.

Region Documentation

We have finalised the concept art and documentation for four regions. I can’t even tell you how cool this is. Originally I wrote these descriptions and made them as vague as possible so that the art team could have some leeway to create magical biomes that come to life. But since then, Rogier has added a great deal of detail to each region. I do the final edit, but I can tell you that his writing is just so easy to polish because he takes you there. These will all be available on the website long-term for you to read. Remember, Illuvium is just the LOCATION of a story. The story itself is a very personal one. It doesn’t focus much on the gameplay and instead tells a tale that we think is worth telling. But without having vibrant places in which to tell the story, it wouldn’t be half as good as it will be.

Illuvium: Zero

All the buildings are done and made in 3d. The ground textures and set dressing are left for the concept team. I think you’ll appreciate the art.

Promos

While doing everything else, they still find the time to pump out fantastic artwork for partnerships. I mean, seriously, show me ANY other project has artwork as good as ‘Atlas at the movies’ or ‘Dash Bond’. Don’t worry; I’ll wait…

Modelling

Character Work

We finished almost all the Iluvials! What a journey it has been. Some you won’t see for a while, but the sheer audacity of trying to get 200+ models of this quality in this short a time is just ridiculous.

Character Customisation

We are starting to work on character customisation. This will not be a fantastic procedural thing because that takes more time than we have, and we want to do it right. But you will get some choices of the size of your character and a few other details. Don’t expect much, and just know that something much better will replace it later. Probably not before we move to Unreal Engine 5.

Texturing and Fur

The new textures are more efficient and look fantastic. We will need to go back over the first few characters later. One crazy thing is we think there will be a way to have real-time fur as an ‘experimental’ setting in-game. Initially, we did this only for the Cinematic Render mode, but it’s looking like high-end cards can pull this off. Don’t expect a high frame rate, though. There will be hair cards for everyone else, which look damn good too.

Animation

Attack Sequences

This requires much more work than the standard attack system, but it also looks better. I can’t tell you how excited I am about these. You’ve seen some, but you have no idea what we have planned. We’re talking about an alternate attack sequence, crit sequences, and layered animation so that you can ‘feel’ that a unit is hurting when they attack. It’s going to be nuts. It won’t all be there at launch, but we’ve set ourselves up to be able to add these things over time in ways that don’t require extensive rewrites. The end goal is to have a battle look about 90% as good as if a small team purely scripted and animated a custom battle sequence.

Final Beta Characters

Private beta animations are 90 % done, with the last few pieces on the way. We have also rigged all the Lynxes and Tier 0.

Overworld

What we have looks great, but it can be improved with time. It just takes more animations for the various states of the game. Things like different animations for falling from different heights, better inverse kinematics, dynamic change of direction, acceleration, and slowdown improvements. Plus, a whole bunch more new animations that I’ve been thinking of that our lead doesn’t even know about yet. Sorry, Alex!

Sound

Wwise

Still, a few more kinks to work out. It hasn’t gone as smoothly as we would have hoped, but as always, we will get it done. This will help us a lot in the long term, so it’s worth a bit of pain now.

Final Beta Characters

More than 90% of assets are complete. You’ve heard many of them. They sound amazing. Remember, for many of these sounds, these are ‘75% quality’, which I think is just stupid. They are already lightyears ahead of other blockchain projects. But that has never been our main competition.

Music

This is progressing faster than ever with the help of a new composer who works as a music producer on the team. We love the iconic sound signature we have created, but it needs help to become something worthy of being called AAA. We believe we now have that.

VFX

The Same Procedure As Every Year

We have made a list of all the elements of the VFX systems that we need to be procedural, which means that the data structures we use for the Illuvials determine the look. Things like the width of a beam or the shape of a zone. We want these to be made once and then given to the game design team to play with. Most of that work has been done now, allowing us to prototype Illuvials rapidly. It will also fall into your hands in time when we give the community the tools to create and propose their own Illuvials.

Weapon VFX

We have finished most of the weapons and only have a couple to go. This is one of the last things we need for the private beta one.

Environment

Outsourcing

Two new outsource studios will complete the Abyssal Basin and Brightland Steppes. This will allow the internal team to finalise the Crimson Waste, used in private beta 1. We just released a video today, so hopefully, you approve. Keep in mind that once the other teams are done with Illuvials, they will focus on animations, VFX and sounds for the props in the environment and bring it to life. That’s my way of saying that you haven’t seen anything yet.

New Props

The modelling team is working towards creating new assets for the regions. And we are starting to work on the ‘story’ elements. Illuvium is a world of mystery, and we want to convey a sense of scale and WONDER. We need you to look through the world and think: “What the hell happened here?”. You haven’t seen too much of that yet, beyond what is hidden in plain sight. But there will be more, including a ‘finish’ that will get you scratching your head.

Battle Boards

Two battle boards are nearly complete, not including the Survival Mode board. These need to be just as unique and detailed as the regions, as you will spend a lot of time here. I’ll be excited to see how everyone reacts.

Summary

While December was an excellent month for us, several things that we didn’t account for mean that we didn’t hit our targets. Internally we are getting more excited, but we understand that doesn’t help you out much. So we are committed to more videos and leaks next month so you can see for yourselves what we are building. We still have a gameplay video of Survival Mode to post, which will be very soon. I’m also committing to more AMAs on the gameplay side. Kieran has done a great job getting out the message, and I need to do my part too.

But for now, I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. See you in 2022. It’s going to be wild.

Edit: Well, this was delayed in being released, and lots of stuff has happened since then. Not all good. But we will solve it. Who needs sleep?

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Illuvium Dev Blog — December 2021 was originally published in Illuvium on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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