Hey there folks. Hard to believe as it is, we’re already a quarter of the way into 2021. This year has been an interesting one for Dead Matter, and as March comes to a close, we wanted to provide a bit of a summary of what we’ve talked about development-wise for the last month, as well as talk about what comes next. Without any further ado, lets get into it.
For much of this month, getting 0.6.0 out the door and into our backers hands has been our main priority. With the issues introduced by updating to UE4.26, some time was lost was we fixed a number of critical bugs such as a crashing issue present on certain hardware that blocked users from getting into the game entirely. This meant the patch ended up being pushed back a fair bit farther than we had originally hoped. During this window, however, a number of deep changes under the hood ended up being made that reworked how survivor motives such as health, blood, hunger, and thirst were managed. Alongside that, work was also able to begin on our worldspace revamp – while the art team met their goals for the patch early on before shifting their attention to our worldspace rework, this meant that they were able to start working on a number of things slated for later patches such as the replacement of placeholder clothing assets used for the starting occupations, such as the new police and EMT outfits that ended up slipping their way in for 0.6.0:
While this has been underway, our art team has also been working on an optimization pass on our vehicles. Our vehicles have a number of issues present with their impact on overall performance, and it’s been something of a long-running concern for us internally. With the extra time our art team has had while 0.6.0 was being prepped for release, they’ve been working to begin cleaning up our vehicles and making them run better. This has had the knock-on effect of actually making our vehicles look better than they did previously. While we’re not quite ready to show the reworked vehicles, in the next few weeks we’re going to be sitting down and doing more of a deep dive into how this rework on the vehicles will be changing things, and also providing a better showcase of how they now look.
Beyond this, our main focus has been preparing for what comes after 0.6.0, which brings us to the next part of this update.
What comes next?
With the extra time we had working on 0.6.0, we spent a good chunk of time reflecting on the previous patches we put out for the Closed Alpha. While many things had worked well, and our workflow had evolved in a positive way to meet the challenges of fixing the myriad issues with the game, there were just as many that hadn’t. We also strongly wanted to move Dead Matter back on track and towards the game that we all know it can be, and so it was clear to us that something needed to change for development to carry on as it should. As we move forwards with work on 0.7.0, we’re going to be addressing these problems so as to lay a better foundation for later updates.
As we’ve mentioned previously, we’ve been working on a worldspace revamp to help restore the look of Dead Matter to what had previously been seen in older previews we’ve shown of the game. Restoring the atmospheric look of those early previews, correcting how bad the foliage in the world looks, and upping the sense of chaos and disarray found in the world are all key priorities of this, alongside fixing a number of technical issues with the world that were contributing to performance issues as well as negatively impacting the flow of the world and making gameplay boring or uninteresting. Since December, our art team has been working on preparing for this undertaking – given the scope of these changes, we’re not quite ready to begin showing some previews of what fruit this work has borne, but over the next few weeks we’re hoping to go into depth about what changes are being made and provide the first few looks at what this ultimately looks like in-game.
Alongside this has been the bevy of bugs and deficiencies with how the game plays. Much of this just boils down the fact that there’s a number of underlying bugs that take time to fix. Our project has, over the years, accumulated a lot of technical debt. And like any debt, it needs to be paid eventually. This, however, takes time, and prior to this point in development we haven’t really had the time to devote to properly fixing these issues and getting the game back to where it should be. Until now, that is.
With the release of 0.6.0, Dead Matter’s codebase has entered a feature lock, and our focus is on cleaning things up and fixing these issues. These things can’t sit festering under the surface any longer, so we’d rather take the time now and fix them up before we move ahead any farther with development. Our code team will be working on nothing else until it’s all cleaned up, and while this is going to take a considerable amount of time, it needs to happen eventually, and it’s just not a good idea for us to carry on with adding new features until we’re able to properly address these problems.
The question then becomes ‘how did this happen in the first place?’ There’s two primary causes for this, and both are things this next patch cycle will also be addressing.
Firstly, we were aiming for a non-sustainable rate of patches. The pace at which we were putting out patches was one intended to placate our community. After the launch of the CA, and the reaction that our team had been faced with, we wanted to throw ourselves at putting out patches rapidly to redeem ourselves and get things back on track as fast as possible. The issue is that weighing the demands of the community with the needs of the game’s development ended up presenting two rather opposed sets of priorities that didn’t match up with the timetable we had set for ourselves. We had, effectively, set ourselves up for failure, and left everybody feeling as if the game was going nowhere fast. And this was because it wasn’t.
We had realized this after 0.4.0 had gone out, but found ourselves in the midst of developing 0.5.0 at that time, and didn’t really have the time or space to put a hold on developing the update to address these issues. When we began working on 0.6.0, and had begun planning for the worldspace revamp, we had been aiming to use 0.7.0 as an opportunity to address this mistake and take the time needed to actually fix the issues that needed fixing. However, with the jump to UE4.26, we suddenly found ourselves in a situation where a portion of our development team was more or less stuck waiting while a major issue was being fixed. While work on certain parts of the game were paused, other things were able to get a proper, in-depth look. Systems such as our medical system or our survival systems, things that touch a vast majority of our game’s systems, wouldn’t ever be systems we’d be able to properly work on in a previous patch due to the timelines we were working with. With the added time we had to work on 0.6.0, we found ourselves with enough time that we were able to give these systems a proper look. Suddenly we were able to do more than just fix some issues with a system without solving any of the core problems that rendered them broken.
With this being the case, going into 0.7.0 we will not be committing to a rapid patch cycle. There’s simply too many issues with the game right now for us to properly address, and some of these issues are extremely far-reaching and will require significant digging around in our codebase to fix, and fix properly. In light of this, while we’re not quite ready to announce a projected completion date just yet, we are able to say it’s going to take quite a while. We know this is likely going to be disappointing to a number of our community members, but we’d rather this than continue pushing out updates that suck.
The second major issue we had was how we had been handling our internal organization. While we don’t often talk about our team growing all that much, over the course of the last 12 months our team has doubled in size, and we have plans to continue expanding our team in the coming months. While this has in quite a few cases worked wonders for the work output of our team, the methods we’ve used to organize our team previously didn’t really work so well any more with so many other people working on the project. With the time we’re taking to work on 0.7.0, we’ve also been working on restructuring our team internally to ensure that things can be done properly and that our internal focus is established and properly maintained. From the perspective of our community, this likely won’t actually mean a whole lot, but the payoff should mean that our patches and updates will be a lot more focused, and that content will arrive in a far more functional state than it has in previous updates.
As we continue with our weekly updates going into April, we’re looking forward to starting to push out the first looks at the work we have underway on these changes to the game. There’s a lot of exciting things that we’ve had on the go behind the scenes, and our team can’t wait to begin to show it off. Until then, we really want to offer our sincerest thanks to all of our community for their support and patience with us, and look forward to taking the first real steps towards turning things around as we make our way into April.