An update on Book Four and Unity 5
Red Thread here, with a new backer update. But first, a quick summary of things you may have missed from the last couple of months:
- Back in August, Ragnar posted the first entry in our new dev blog. You can read it here.
- A couple of weeks ago, Quintin posted a second entry.
- (We're trying to keep this dev blog regularly updated, so bookmark it to keep up with future posts.)
- We released some mysterious new art from the upcoming Book Four to Twitter and Facebook — and revealed the title of our next episode: Revelations.
- We also released an overview of Zoë's visual evolution through the first three episodes of the game.
- (As always, in order to get the very latest updates, remember to follow our Twitter and/or Facebook accounts. We will continue to post occasional Kickstarter updates, but only when there are major news.)
- (And, as always part two, if you want to remain completely spoiler free, don't click on any of those links and stay away from all updates: there will always be some 'spoilers', even though we try never to reveal anything that would negatively affect anyone's enjoyment of upcoming episodes.)
With all of that out of the way, here's a brief update on what's going on in production.
As of this week, Book Four is slightly delayed. The reason for this is our long-gestating port of the game from Unity 4.6 to Unity 5.x (we're currently using version 5.2).
This upcoming port is important for several reasons:
- To improve frame-rate and overall performance.
- To reduce memory-related crashes.
- To improve our internal workflow with Unity's new 64-bit editor.¹
- To open up for ongoing and future improvements to lighting, shaders and effects, and further performance and stability fixes.
- To facilitate for ports to new platforms, including PlayStation 4.²
Although switching engines mid-production is a risky thing to do, during our initial investigation into the engine switch we were quite optimistic about the timeline. The game appeared to run well in Unity 5 and there were no massive issues with our own tools or third-party plugins. In addition, this felt like the perfect time to switch and move the production over to an improved pipeline before wrapping up the final two episodes.
Doing the actual port has proved more time-consuming and challenging than expected, however — and of course this is the case, because it always is. Still, we did not anticipate this work to delay the release of Book Four.
Why a delay? Due to the way our game is constructed, we've had to port everything. We couldn't just start with the fourth episode and patch the rest later: the whole game needs to run in the new engine. This has resulted in a ton of work for the artists, along with plenty of bug-testing and -fixing. Things like collision, lighting, plugins, shaders work differently — and with every major engine upgrade, there are new bugs, some of which we can't fix on our own.
Will the port be worth the wait? We believe so! This was a necessary switch, something we had to do sooner or later, both for obvious performance reasons (we're very aware of the issues some players have had) and to allow porting to consoles and other platforms. How much a performance boost players will see depends, of course, on their specific hardware and OS version. Hopefully it will make a significant difference, particularly to those of you who have struggled running the game.
How long of a delay are we looking at? No more than a couple of weeks — based on our own internal release date for Book Four (which was unannounced but imminent). We do need to release the Unity 5 port of the existing episodes first, to iron out all possible technical issues, before releasing a whole new episode filled with lots of new content. Doing both at the same time would be risky — our testing pipeline is already strained — and would potentially have a negative effect on the player reception of Book Four.
So when will the Unity 5 port of Dreamfall Chapters be released? It won't be long. We're testing right now, and fixing issues as they pop up. As soon as we're confident about quality and stability, we'll release a version to the Steam beta branch. Once we've had some eyes on the new code for a few days, and the community gives us the thumbs up, we'll publish that to the main branch — including GOG and the Humble Store — and all of our players.
Making a major switch like this mid-release cycle is not something we'd recommend to anyone, though the team has handled the transition admirably. We feel it was necessary and that we've made the right decision, though delays are never fun. The team's already busy wrapping up Book Four, and this has increased the strain, stress and workload — but we hope the changes will be noticeable and the improvements tangible, and we look forward to hearing your thoughts on the Unity 5 beta version.
We'll have lots more about Book Four in the coming weeks, leading up to launch — and the wait will definitely be worth the REVELATIONS.
P.S. Oh, and one last thing! Dreamfall Chapters (and Red Thread) was recently nominated for a prestigious TIGA Award for both best action/adventure game, and for best game with a purpose! The ceremony's in November, so fingers crossed for that.
¹ Working on locations such as Europolis and Marcuria using the 32-bit editor has been an exercise in frustration. Our artists and designers experienced regular crashes and extremely slow performance. The move to Unity 5 has massively improved our workflow.
² A lot of you have been waiting for the PS4 port, and this is not something that was possible with v4.x of Unity. The game is currently running well on our PS4 dev kits, though we don't yet have a concrete release date in mind. We're prioritising Book Four and PC/Mac/Linux first — but PS4 is next in line!