Dev Diary #71: Huge Engine Update, Ohayocon and Beyond
Howdy everyone! Sorry that it’s been a while since the last update. Before we get into the latest Freeborn updates, we wanted to go over why we’ve been gone for so long.
To be frank, 2023 has been a pretty terrible year for us health-wise. From multiple hospitalizations for family members, many urgent care visits, and significant eye issues, work on the game has been sporadic ever since Ohayocon. The convention itself was a highlight this year though, and definitely one of the best conventions we’ve attended. Thank you to everyone who voted and helped us secure 3rd place in the People’s Choice Award (for Digital Games!)
The most significant issue was an injury that occurred to Jesse’s eyes which almost caused him to go blind. Thankfully, Jesse is doing better now, but it has been a long road to recovery. His eye is improving every week, and we are hopeful it will be at 100% in the near future. We’re still dealing with some medical issues among other family members, but we feel the worst for all of us is over.
Now with the sad stuff out of the way, how about we dig into something a bit more positive. Despite the reduced pace we had to undergo this year, we were still able to make an immense update to the structure of the game. Let’s talk about game engines.
Today’s game engines evolve rapidly, and the difference in visual capability, performance, and basic quality of life can improve drastically between different versions of the same engine. For the last several years, Freeborn has been using Unity 5.6 which was released in 2016. Although Unity frequently updates the engine, there were a number of reasons why we didn’t update past 5.6.
Updating a game to a new engine version can be time consuming due to the capacity for it to break some of the systems you have set up. There were core parts of our dialogue, questing, and inventory systems that would have required significant time to transition. As long time followers are surely aware, we had initially thought we would be able to finish the game much earlier, but feature creep, level reworks, and longer-than-anticipated development times have pushed the release date (the troublesome drawback to having just one dev).
Today, we are pleased to announce that we have completed a full transition from Unity 5.6 to Unity 2022. There are many reasons we decided to bite the bullet and go through with the update. One of the primary reasons is simply that we think we can vastly improve the quality of the opening of the game in both graphics and performance. The new engine allows us to make significant visual and performance upgrades and allows us to add content easier and faster. Attending conventions, we’ve had plenty of time to watch attendees play through Day 1 of the story campaign and ideas on how to improve the starting experience.
At conventions, you have a lot of people just quickly browsing through the different games being showcased and they will often spend only 3-5 minutes looking at any particular one. For this most recent Ohayocon, we actually saw the highest engagement with the demo we’ve ever seen. Many people played between 20-40 minutes, and we had far fewer people get stuck and need to ask questions to progress the game.
While this is very good news, seeing the early parts of the game remind us of how much the quality has improved over the years. Even with the reworks we have done to the beginning levels, we still think that Day 1 is in need of a full rework to match the quality of the other days as well as the quality we expect for the overall game.
The engine update was the first big step towards this direction, and we are already seeing huge improvements in visual fidelity and performance. We will share more on what we have planned for Day 1 in the future, but I can say we have never been more excited about how the story campaign is looking. As always, keep an eye on our socials to get the first look at everything we have cooking.
Stay safe out there,