It’s been an intense couple months assembling this latest update, but with some persistence and thanks to dedicated experimental build players we’re finally ready to ship. Today we’re announcing our biggest update yet, the Workshop Discovery Update! This update puts the focus on discovering excellent community-created content while improving usability throughout the game. The vast majority of implemented features and fixes were directly based on feedback from early access players. Thanks again to anyone who reported a bug or gave a suggestion since the release!
The Workshop Discovery Update
As we approach 500 user created levels, we wanted to ensure that great levels are visible and that the community has a say in what's being promoted through Workshop. This update allows you to easily rate Steam Workshop levels, find them easier in the level select menu thanks to new sorting features, automatically download levels from online servers if you don't have the level, create quick playlists, and tons more. There are also improvements to the main menu, split-screen menus, server browser, results screen, input system, level editor, and other underlying systems!
Read the massive changelog here: Beta Build 3519 (Changelog)
In many ways this update is a refactoring of several core systems such as input, networking, workshop integration, and menus. After observing fresh players enter the game for the first time we needed to take a hard look at the baseline accessibility across the board. The initial user experience doesn't seem to be terrible but there were a number of concerns we needed to address before diving back into gameplay and content iteration. While I do wish we had gotten our refactoring to a state where we could release this update sooner, I don't regret the major strides the team has made toward improving the experience.
Steam Daily Deal! Distance is 33% Off!
As a bonus we've also been chosen to be a Daily Deal on Steam! Distance will be 33% off for 48 hours (ending 10am PST on Friday), and we'll be visible on the front page for 24 hours starting now. If you know someone who's been waiting for a sale make sure to let them know today!
Get Distance 33% off (until Friday 10am PST): http://store.steampowered.com/app/233610
Twitch Stream Tomorrow! (12pm PST)
In classic fashion we’re well overdue for a community stream, so join us tomorrow at noon (12pm PST / 3pm EST / 8pm CET) for some multiplayer matches and dev Q&A! If you haven’t already, you can follow us on Twitch to get a message once the stream is live
Follow on Twitch.tv: http://twitch.tv/refractstudios
3 Months of Early Access
Distance has now been out for 3 months on Steam Early Access and it has seriously flown by. Fortunately, reviews have been extremely positive and the feedback from fresh players has been a massive help. We've been reviewed by Rock, Paper, Shotgun, Eurogamer, True PC Gamer, Super Best Friends, AltF4Games, FantaBobGames, etc. along with a continual flow of Twitch streams and YouTube videos being released. All in all we can see several areas in which we could have had a stronger release, but at the end of the day we focused a lot of our energy on improving Distance. Having a solid game seemed like a safe marketing bet for us.
With the few number of people working full-time on Distance, our greatest challenge has been staying on top of bugs brought on through user generated content and online play. None of our programmers get a massive kick out of system design, so developing heavy systems like networking and the level editor can be a battle to ensure that every scenario is properly tested. Distance is getting to be a surprisingly large game between the story mode, split-screen, online play, and Steam Workshop/level editor support, so we continually have to be smart about what features are a good fit for the team to work on.
When we started the year we imagined that we'd put out updates more frequently, but as things progressed we realized that it made more sense to package everything into a conglomerate build. When you update you'll definitely have a lot of new things to explore. Some of the core refactoring led to unstable behavior early on, so launching the experimental branch worked incredibly well to tie us back into the community and help us iterate on riskier features based on feedback.
(rating a level from within the level select menu)
Jason spent about a month revamping our input system, and fortunately it seems to have fixed most of the major reported issues. Input issues have been our biggest bug type reported so far, so keeping on top of every random controller possibility has been a continual struggle, especially when OS X and Linux enter the mix. The cool part is that force feedback is finally supported on Logitech devices like the G27 steering wheel, so those who have one at home can finally get the arcade cabinet experience. Jason also revamped our networking to function more smoothly (it's way too crazy to get into detail here), which was another impressively monumental task.
(the ever growing pile of testing controllers)
Kyle and I have been focused on general usability, bug fixes, and taking a whole new look at Steam Workshop. Getting in the feature to sort levels and load them efficiently is one thing, but making it usable on a controller and visually cluttered has been the true challenge. The goal was to make playing community levels smoother and more engaging, so I'm crazy excited to finally get this in the hands of more players. I didn't expect menu development to be so entertaining, but once I got into a groove it was hard to pull myself out of it.
My biggest lesson from these past few months has been how tough it is to continually switch gears after the launch. After crunching on marketing stuff for several months, I've been mostly excited to stay focused on coding and contribute to the feature development. Unfortunately, in my opinion, it's been at a cost of public progress updates and community interaction. Going forward I hope to bring more balance to my daily activities and do more to update players on our developments.
On a side note, make sure to check out the interview Kyle and I did with BigSushi.fm! It covers early access, our take on design, and a ton of other random stuff.
BigSushi.fm interview: http://www.bigsushi.fm/episode-185-refract-studios/
Kyle and I were able to attend GDC last week which was surprisingly productive. Last year we decided to just to focus on PAX East and skipped out on GDC, and this year we did the opposite. In future years it seems worth it to attempt both, but like many developers we hope that they refrain from double booking the conventions on the same week (again). Overall it was great to get out of the office and pick the brilliant minds of any developers willing to talk. Thanks to those who reached out after our last update and made time to meet!
While VR was the big topic this year, Kyle and I spent more time looking at what Unity 5 brings to the table. Long story short, Unity 5 was officially released last week and it could bring a bunch of theoretically positive improvements to Distance if we were to upgrade. Of course there will be a considerable amount of time required to port to it, and we already know of many things that will instantly break (e.g. physics). In any case we want to attempt to take the plunge sooner rather than later to see how feasible it is.
If you follow the experimental build changelogs you might get a taste of how sporadically we function. We do our best to stay on top of feedback and improve areas that are sorely lacking, but it can be too easy to fall in feature creep based on player wishlists. I really have enjoyed tackling UI and Steam Workshop features for a few months, but I think after messing with Unity 5 it'll probably be time to return to something more artistically creative. I'm not sure if that's more adventure mode content, new music, or design improvements to existing modes, but I'll likely return to something a bit more risky. Kyle and I will partner up for both the Unity 5 experimentation and what comes next.
Jason has already gotten started on random track generation... and it's looking amazing. I won't spoil too much, but here are a few images that should give you an indicator of where he’s going.
(takes just a few seconds to create a standard generated track)
(let’s run the generator for 3 minutes, how about an insanely twisted “spaghetti” track?)
(and somehow it’s completely playable without ever intersecting with itself!)
Eddie and Laura have had less time to develop new content this year, but they've still made good progress in terms of creating some new assets. For example, Laura designed some sweet new sideless roads based on players' requests. To get them fully integrated Kyle wants to make our road system a bit more generic so we don't have to spend endless hours recreating every single style of road segment for every type of road, but the art is basically done.
Eddie has been developing a simpler start and end zone to essentially create your own using other in-game assets. He's also optimized some previous assets to hopefully improve framerate for some. Here's an example of his improved shard obstacle.
As always, thanks for the feedback from everyone during our first few months on early access. When I signed up to make a racing game I didn't expect to spend two months on menus, but it's been a lot of fun finding ways to highlight many brilliantly designed levels on Workshop. Keep up the great creations!
If you made it this far in this post, what do you think about this style of update releases? Do you prefer the massive conglomerates or are you excited about the more sporadic, frequent experimental builds? Let us know in the comments, and we hope to see you online!
- Jordan (with everyone at Refract)