Summer 2022 Development Update

Hi everyone! In this year’s summer post, we’re going to provide an update on the far-reaching technical investigations that we’ve been undertaking over the last year. We’ll also share more information about how our vision for Hytale is evolving, take a look at the changing face of Orbis, and introduce some powerful new tools for builders. This is going to be a long one!

Tech changes

In our winter 2021 development update, we explained that we were undertaking a deep investigation into all aspects of Hytale in order to ensure that the game lives up to the expectations of our community, both at launch and beyond. A great deal of this investigation has been focused on the technology that supports the game. Today, we are going to outline where these technical explorations have led us and why we believe the choices we’ve made are going to make a huge difference to both Hytale’s longevity and the health of its community.

We’re aware that some eagle-eyed community members have already spotted that we’ve stopped listing Java and C# in our job descriptions. This is because we’ve made the decision to redevelop Hytale’s engine—both the client and the server—in C++. Doing so provides several major benefits:

  • It makes it easier for us to release Hytale across multiple platforms. This is one of the most common requests we receive, and we want to deliver on it without compromising on quality. We also wish to avoid a situation where our community finds themselves split up based on the platform they play on.
  • It provides performance benefits.
  • It will make it easier for us to patch and maintain the game in the future, and establishes a stronger foundation for the future development of Hytale.

We appreciate that this might be a source of concern for some, particularly those who have come to us from the Minecraft creator community. However, we strongly believe that this is the right choice, and we plan to include best-in-class systems for scripting and configurability while investigating other forms of moddability as development continues.

The happiness of both players and creators is vital to Hytale’s long-term success. We want to ensure that players enjoy a game that performs well, is widely accessible, and makes it as easy as possible for them to play with their friends—wherever they are, however they play games. Creators, in turn, require an audience for their creations. Modding and other forms of content creation isn’t a niche aspect of Hytale, to be encountered only on certain versions or in certain circumstances. It is a core part of the experience, and we want to ensure that we’re providing creators with the best possible ecosystem—one where their work can be encountered by any player.

Our previous engine was built at a time when we had fewer resources and we hadn’t yet come to terms with the scope of what we were trying to achieve with Hytale. Over the last year it became clear that if we kept on going as we were, we would hit a range of technical challenges in areas like scaling, compatibility, and the speed at which we could deliver patches and updates. It would also have been untenable to support a number of popular platforms without creating specific versions of the game for each of them, which would be a huge amount of work—and those players would find themselves unable to play or share their creations with friends on the ‘core’ version of the game.

These were difficult facts to come to terms with, and the decision to rebuild the engine followed months of painstaking research and soul-searching on the part of the team. However, we’re very fortunate to have the resources and time to be able to make this decision. Many developers find themselves in the opposite scenario: discovering that they need to make tech changes but being simply unable to do so. The negative consequences of these situations are almost always felt by players. We would rather take advantage of the resources at our disposal and make the right decision now, rather than put our community through painful upheavals in the future.

There are inevitably going to be a lot of questions about these changes—particularly from creators. We’re aware that many are eager to get started on Hytale modding and want to know what they can do to hit the ground running. To these creators, we'd ask that you be patient. We can’t answer detailed questions right now as the redevelopment of the engine is still underway, but we will be providing much more information in the future. Rest assured that while the specifics of how modding will work are changing, our commitment to enabling creators to make amazing content is not.

Strasbourg-based artist Stom500 provided this amazing mural for our office. Also pictured: Cosmo’s dog, Mixy.

Two other questions we expect are ‘how does this impact the game’s minimum system requirements?’ and ‘does this change the timeline for Hytale’s release?’

To the first question, we’ve not established a new minimum spec yet. However we’re building the new engine to perform well on a wide range of platforms and low-spec PCs are part of that consideration.

To the second question—it definitely has an impact, but the redevelopment of the engine is proceeding quickly and we're hitting our internal milestones. However, the game will not be ready to launch in 2023, which was the earliest possible launch window we outlined last year.

It’s inevitable that this news provokes mixed emotions—we’re very confident that we’re doing the right thing for the game and our players, but we also know that our community has been patiently waiting for Hytale for a long time. We sympathize: it has been a long road for us too, with many rewarding moments but also many difficult decisions.

Earlier this year, we were able to meet up as a studio for the first time. It’s amazing to see how much the company has grown—and this isn’t even everybody!

At the end of the day, though, releasing a game that meets (or ideally exceeds!) expectations means everything to us, and that takes time. More time than we could ever have anticipated when we announced Hytale as a 30-person team of indie devs and modders. There are over 100 of us now, and more are joining us every month. We’ve been blessed with an extraordinary influx of talent over the last couple of years, and we’re investing all of it in making Hytale better.

As the engine redevelopment project has proceeded, we’ve had an opportunity to revisit our vision for Hytale as a whole—from its core design to its fiction to the way we think about each of the traditional pillars of the game. In the next section of this update, we’ll dig into this a little further.

Our vision for Hytale

Traditionally, when we’ve explained Hytale, we’ve done so by splitting the game into three ‘pillars’: creative, competitive multiplayer, and adventure. Instead of pillars, let’s think about these as doorways to different experiences.

Step through the door on the left and you find yourself in creative play. Here you can spin up custom, procedurally generated worlds and experience them as an adventurer, a creator, or something in between. You can install mods and take advantage of a diversity of block and prefab styles to change the look and feel of the game.

We think of the creator’s journey as beginning at ‘creative play’ and leading ultimately to ‘creator pro’. A player who starts out building with blocks might graduate to more advanced building tools (more on those later) before branching out into scripting, asset creation or animation using tools that are powerful enough to fulfill the needs of professional modders while offering accessible entry points to newcomers.

The door in the middle leads to Hytale’s first-party online component: an evolution of the traditional Hypixel social play and minigames experience. Here, players gather in a shared hub space to show off their achievements across the breadth of the game, compete in the latest minigames, and express themselves through both their Avatar and their creations.

In many ways, this is the heart of Hytale, a collective environment for the whole community to come together in. We’re working to pack it with activities, events and interactions to surprise and delight players. However players leave their mark on Hytale, it’ll be here that they come to celebrate their accomplishments and those of their friends.

Finally, through the rightmost door, lies adventure on Orbis. This is our first-party sandbox RPG experience, which tasks players with braving the wilds of a world in peril in order to uncover its secrets and change the fate of its inhabitants. Unlike the custom worlds that players generate for themselves as part of creative play, Orbis is a ‘curated’ experience—something that we’ve carefully crafted to offer a meaningful challenge and narrative experience for our players, while taking advantage of selective randomization to ensure a diverse and interesting experience.

Here’s the thing, though: our goal isn’t for each of these doors to lead you to a different game, disconnected from all of the others. Whichever door you choose, we want you to end up in the same place: playing Hytale.

Hytale isn’t three different games: it’s one. As we’ve re-approached the core tenets of the game, we’ve taken on the challenge of ensuring that each aspect of Hytale supports the others—and that players feel empowered whether they go deep in one area or dabble in many different game modes.

We’re working to establish a sense of coherence across the breadth of Hytale while ensuring that the game supports a wide variety of forms of creative expression. This is a multi-disciplinary effort, with every aspect of creative development involved—from art to audio, gameplay design to narrative—contributing in their own way. Our UI/UX team are currently in the process of rebuilding Hytale’s interface from the ground up with these goals in mind. We’re not quite ready to share the results of their work, but can provide a little teaser:

The UI/UX team is building a visual language for Hytale’s UI that will help unify the various experiences you—and your in-game persona—have. Next, let’s talk a bit more about that persona…

A universe of Avatars

Your character in Hytale is a powerful creative being known as an Avatar. Avatars focus raw creative energy into everything from simple contraptions to entire worlds as they express their individual personalities. We’ve talked a little bit about Avatars before, but in this post we’d like to highlight how they help us to create a sense of coherence across Hytale. Every part of the game reflects a different aspect of life as an Avatar.

The power of an Avatar varies according to the domain they find themselves in. They are at their most powerful when in command of a world of their own creation. Here, Avatar power is truly unbound, with their only limitations being those that they impose upon themselves. Some Avatars invest themselves deeply in the worlds they create, and scarcely involve themselves in the business of the wider cosmos (at least one Avatar that you’re already aware of fits this description…).

Many Avatars seek each other out in shared social environments. Here, Avatars moderate their power level in pursuit of exciting new experiences. They’re especially drawn to new forms of competition and creativity, actively drawing influence from one another and the various worlds they encounter. The spaces that Avatars share reflect their eclectic personalities. We’re still developing the visual style for this part of Hytale, but here’s a peek at a recent exploration:

You may have seen one or two of these new visual elements—such as the low-fi neon signs—crop up in a recent screenshot!

Things change when Avatars visit each other’s worlds, however. Here, they only have the powers that they’re granted by their host. Avatars may choose to freely share their creative freedom with their guests—but that isn’t always the case!

In Hytale, many Avatars are drawn to the world of Orbis—a world that has lost its Avatar under mysterious circumstances. When they arrive on Orbis, they find themselves subject to many mortal limitations. Where elsewhere they can effortlessly channel their creativity, here they must develop practical skills if they’re going to survive, establish themselves, and ultimately uncover the secrets of this vibrant, storied world.

Speaking of which…

Rediscovering Orbis

Our Encounter and Level Design team has been hard at work over the last year undertaking a thorough reevaluation of the biomes and landscapes of Orbis. Our worldgen technologies and techniques have been a source of pride for us for a long time, but we always know that we can do better—and we’re taking advantage of the additional time that we’re taking with the game to ensure that every part of Orbis feels meaningful.

These thumbnail concepts provide a sense of the mood and palette we’re exploring for Orbis’ coldest regions. Let's take a look at how these new biomes are developing.

This misty forest by Baxter demonstrates how we can start to introduce colder elements into regions that might flow naturally from warmer, more temperate areas. The low-lying mist and drifting ice floes let you know what you’re in for if you keep moving upstream…

Even in the snowiest areas, however, there are pockets of warmth—as this concept for a hot springs biome shows. We don’t know if Trorks will actually do this, by the way. But we’re glad this one appears to be enjoying themselves.

Here’s that same biome in-game, courtesy of Amber. The use of custom VFX for geysers helps us create the sense that there’s hot water bubbling away just underneath the surface.

Now we move into a much more extreme environment, as this concept illustrates. In the coldest regions, snow gives way to blocks of sheer, jagged ice as the environments become more fantastical.

Here’s that frosty biome again, brought to life by Sarc. This is a good demonstration of how the landscape plays a role in establishing the challenge level of an area.

This concept takes a different spin on the idea of a fantastical frozen landscape, imagining a series of colossal waves flash-frozen at the moment they crested the surface of an icy sea.

Here’s Greater’s prototype of a biome built on these principles. We want to mix in moments of wonder like this to ensure that there’s always something new to discover as players press further and further into the wilds of Orbis.

Next, we’re going to head to a very different part of Orbis for a look at a reimagined desert biome.

These salt flat concepts show one of the ways that we’re trying to add diversity and interest to Orbis’ hottest regions. The red rocks and white sands help set the area apart, while the coral-like vegetation suggests that this region might once have been underwater.

Here’s Roddan’s initial pass at worldgen for this new biome. As you can see, it comprises both highly exposed, barren plateaus and winding canyons with many caves and outcrops. Each poses their own dangers, and players will want to equip themselves accordingly.

Evolving VFX

VFX artist Polina has been hard at work expanding our arsenal of particle effects and related techniques. These are proving to be a powerful tool when it comes to adding detail, atmosphere and personality to every part of Hytale—from special weapon attacks to magic to environmental effects and more.

We’re going to continue to invest in VFX research as a way to add immersive spectacle to Hytale while retaining its low-fi stylings. In the next clip, you can see an example of new VFX applied to an older dungeon environment, providing a much spookier and more compelling atmosphere…

Advanced building tools

In the screenshot above, you can see an elaborate custom build: a pair of ruined buildings surrounded by a partially-destroyed curtain wall and flanked by chasms of molten lava. Of this entire build, only one of the two buildings was built the traditional way, by placing blocks. Every other aspect was created using some of the advanced creator tools and techniques that we’ve been working on over the last year.

In the clip below, you can see how the build was made. Please bear in mind that these tools are still work-in-progress: you’ll see bugs, you’ll see placeholder UI, and you’ll see some incongruous visual elements and performance issues. However, we’re excited to share an early look at this expansion to the Hytale creator toolkit.

At the beginning of the clip, Propzie starts by building one of the structures before using a new selection tool to pick out the whole build, duplicate it, rotate it, and finally set it down a short distance away.

Next, we see the first example of something that we’re calling a ‘scripted brush’. These are brushes with an attached script or macro that can be used to perform custom build operations. This first one is a combination of wall brush and pathing brush. First Propzie uses the wall component to create the outer curtain wall. The walls themselves are self-generating according to how they’re configured in the brush itself, and are linked together using prefab corner pieces.

Then, Propzie adds the paths with the other half of the brush. These are painted directly onto the landscape, with dynamic variations in texture to create variety. When the brush detects that a painted path has collided with one of the walls, it automatically adds a prefab gateway!

We’ve created dozens of scripted brushes ourselves, and we intend for players and creators to be able to make and share their own. It’s an incredibly flexible system.

Next, Propzie uses the ‘plane lock’ tool to set his brush to a particular height, which is useful for what comes next. Using the lava brush—another example of a scripted brush—he created dynamic magma rifts that have an even depth, but that use random nodes to create cracks and provide a more natural look.

The last scripted brush that Propzie uses is the ‘destruction brush’. When used, the destruction brush deletes chunks of the target area before scattering debris over the floor nearby to simulate dynamic destruction.

We’re really excited about the potential of scripted brushes and we’ll have much more to share about how creators will be able to configure and share them in the future.

One more thing…

This has been a long update! Thank you for reading, and for your interest in Hytale. As has become tradition, we’ll leave you with another track from the Hytale OST. This one is called ‘Heroes of Orbis’.

To download a .zip containing the new video clips featured in this post, click here!