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SANDSTORM News State of Production: Round 2

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I hope this post finds all of you well and in good spirits. If you’re new to the State of Production posts, this is the second edition. You can review the first one here.

As I hope you are all aware of and happily experiencing, we recently released Update 1.4, and so far, we’re receiving a lot of positive feedback. Of the negative feedback we received, we were able to be immediately reactive, via a hotfix, and the changes have since been well-received. We are also aware of the playlist population issues, and we are working on ways to improve those populations (feedback is welcome!) Overall, the studio is really pleased with the way things have been going, and we continue to introduce, optimize, and re-evaluate our internal production processes. I have a lot of exciting new developments to share with all of you, so I’m going to dive right into it.

What was the studio up to for the last month?
Since my first post, we’ve continued to build the studio; both in terms of infrastructure, as well as in terms of personnel.

We’ve now got a dedicated meeting room (the construction was actually completed Tuesday, September 10th, the same day as the update!). Check out the picture[imgur.com]; it’s not too fancy yet; we’re still adding carpet, some sound-proofing/echo paneling, getting a bigger and more appropriate-sized table, and preparing to hook up a big-screen television for digital conferencing. Additionally, the rest of the office is starting to come together! We’ve installed dividers, started partitioning off different sections of the building to help compartmentalize teams a bit, and built quite a few more new computers for the team. We’re actively shopping and preparing to get some streaming equipment so that we can re-initialize measures like having the team live-stream with the community. Speaking of which…

I’m super excited to announce all the additions to the team!

Since I last posted, we’ve hired a dedicated Community Manager, /u/NWI_DaraDef! As she acclimates and continues to take over the reins of community development and community outreach, she’ll likely become a more omnipresent force on this sub. We love her, and we’re sure you will too!

We’ve built out our internal Quality Assurance team; we now have dedicated internal manual testing capabilities, and over the next few weeks, the infrastructure to support and utilize automated testing will come online as well. Our QA Engineer started on Monday, September 16th. Along with him, we’ve hired 2 additional QA testers to help refine and sharpen our internal test efforts. Additionally, one of these testers will be bolstering our player-support efforts, as we continue to flesh out an internal support division to help our players troubleshoot technical issues and create documentation and a knowledge base on how to resolve common problems.

Regarding Performance and Optimization
Along with building up an internal support division to help us better understand how we can best serve our players and customers moving forward, we’ve additionally been scraping feedback and data from across various forums and mediums across the internet. The most common, singular feedback item observed and reported, generally speaking, has been heard loud and clear.

“Fix the game’s performance problems.”
“The game doesn’t run well on my machine.”
“The game needs to be optimized to run better.”

When I first started with New World Interactive, I had a hypothesis that performance was the biggest obstacle faced by the studio. In the 3 months I’ve been here, that talking point has only become louder and more prevalent. I want to be 100% clear on this: We have heard you, and we are making optimization our number one priority over the next 3 months. I’d like to dive into the details to assuage potential concerns or fears, as well as use this SoP post to address the scope of impact that this decision will have on our roadmap, on our prior commitments that we had hoped to achieve in 2019, and on our path forward.

First, I had anticipated the need for this type of initiative. One of the reasons I began with building a support division up was so that we would create and establish better telemetry and reporting mechanisms. By building up our Quality Assurance division, we will now have more bodies and more eyes dedicated to manual testing; this will help us to slowly-yet-steadily re-evaluate pre-existing features and systems within our game, as well as to more thoroughly test future content additions to the game. We will be able to utilize automated testing to help us capture more complex aspects of testing; at night, we’ll be able to run configuration and settings testing 1000’s of times per evening. We’ll be able to automate performance testing captures on dozens of machines with numerous scripted conditions to better understand where we are over-budget in-game, and to identify where we can recover potential performance losses. Effectively, we’ll be able to maximize the amount of testing we can carry out on a day-to-day basis, which should provide us with meaningful data (over time) on where to best focus our efforts for initializing optimization efforts.

Second, with the arrival of our community manager and the additional assistance of our testers to assist with player support inquiries, we’ll be able to start collecting, organizing, and tracking player feedback. This will allow us to cross-reference the data we receive from our analytics and testing division, and to weigh it against the more human and personal side of player feedback we receive from our community. Over time, we’ll be able to analyze this information and create action items for our art, design, and programming teams. We should also see a substantial uptick in our scope of support, such as faster response times to troubleshooting inquiries, more activity and dialogue on our forums across the internet, and more relevant and thorough troubleshooting documentation and techniques to ensure that our players aren’t blocked out from being able to play our game.

Third, as a result of this initiative, we’ve been re-evaluating our roadmap to make sure that, moving forward, when we make a commitment to our playerbase, that we can deliver. If we can’t deliver, at the very least, we’ll be able to message so more accurately, more directly, more quickly so that expectations can be managed accordingly. We’re beginning to ramp up our production team as well, and we recently just put up postings for Game Producers[newworldinteractive.com]. This will help us to ensure that bugs and tasks are being distributed, messaged, and tracked more accurately and efficiently, as well as to ensure that we are staying on time, within budget, and within scope. Plus, you can work with me! :)

Lastly, we’re working with NVIDIA to help us with performance analysis and evaluation. Given that we’ve seen several references to people having performance challenges with high-end graphics cards, we’re sending off a few builds to evaluate GPU optimization for these top-end cards. While it's too early to determine what the results will be, we'll be able to get a better handle on where in our optimization process specifically we need to focus to improve performance. While we already know we have a lot of drain on the CPU end of things, we're hoping to get more information on that and other factors through this testing. We’re optimistic that we’ll get some great starting points, given that the last time we had this game reviewed by a leading rendering expert was actually right before we initially launched nearly a year ago!

Console Release Announcement
As I mentioned in my original SoP post, the console version is coming. At the time of my previous post, I wasn’t comfortable releasing the details related to our console release. Now, I have all my ducks in order, and I’m ready to present the news to the community.

Insurgency: Sandstorm will officially be coming to consoles in the Spring of 2020.

After evaluating the scope of concerns regarding optimizations, back in July, we began a dialogue internally and with our publisher, Focus Home Interactive (FHI), about how to best proceed forward with releasing on console. Given the studio’s history, we didn’t have a lot of pre-existing experience internally relating to console porting, optimization, navigating console TRC (Technical Requirement Checklists), etc. Our CEO, Jeremy Blum, began exploring co-development partnerships earlier in the summer with FHI. The hope was that we could work alongside some talented developers who could help us navigate these challenges and the process itself, while simultaneously freeing up some bandwidth internally to continue generating new content + optimizing the game further for our PC audience. Effectively, by finding a partner to assist with console development, we can substantially expedite our own efforts at optimization while also getting some fresh eyes/additional perspective on recommended adjustments and changes.

We recently finalized our agreement with a console co-development partner. We’ve chosen to move forward with Black Tower Studios, and we are super excited to announce the partnership! We’re also pretty excited to announce a few select things regarding the console release. We’ll be releasing a time-sensitive, console-exclusive map for approximately 2 weeks when we launch. After 2 weeks, we’ll release this map on PC as well, but we thought this would be a fun way to give console players something to “own” and get excited about when paired with the release. We will reveal more information about this map in the near future :) Furthermore, as we close in on the release date, we’ll be doing all sorts of contests and giveaways within our community, ranging from things like an Insurgency Console, signed copies of the game, and merchandise! We’re hopeful that the community is as excited as we are to finally be able to talk about this. I fully anticipate a load of questions, and I’ll be fielding those questions on this topic specifically.

How do these decisions impact the future?
The short answer? In the best way possible! As we make a huge push towards optimization, some of our creative content has been pushed back and delayed to be released later down the road. As a result, we’ll be steadily releasing all sorts of new content to the community, and in a better state, that should keep everyone excited. If you look at how much content we’ve released since the game first launched, we hope it will become clear that we stand by our titles beyond a release date. For example, we’ve introduced over half a dozen new weapons, 3 maps, 4 new game modes, and a large quantity of new cosmetic items and camouflages... and we have many more additions yet to come!

As we don’t believe in annualizing editions of our game from a philosophical standpoint, all the changes and adjustments we make over time are done so with the belief that we’re going to expand and improve upon our pre-existing product. We’re super committed to our players, and we want to reinforce our continuous support to our fans. As more and more production guidelines are rolled out, we should have tighter, cleaner production cycles pertaining to future sprints.

In Closing
This wraps up the second SOP blog. It’s not as wide-scale or as robust as the first one, but a lot of my next month is simply going to entail the creation of new processes, the refinement of old processes, training, and working on some more under-the-hood initiatives. We’re all pretty excited with the way things are shaping up.

Comments. Concerns, or questions? Leave them here and I’ll address them as best as I am able. We’ll also be hosting an AMA tomorrow, Thursday, September 19 at 1pm MST, to discuss this blog in more detail with all of you :D Here is a link to the AMA thread!

P.S: Wanted to share some pictures of the team as well. This is roughly ¼ of the team as we still have many re-positioning to join the core group, but I thought it’d be cool to share with the community to remind everyone that we’re a super small team! :D Check it out here[imgur.com].

Although we are posting this announcement on Steam for visibility, we would like to direct all users to our post on Reddit if you would like to comment or be involved in the discussion. Our team will be actively monitoring that thread, and we will also be hosting a live Q&A tomorrow, so go subscribe to https://www.reddit.com/r/insurgency/

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