Stuff has been insane. The past three days were spent in highly intense meetings, with two other team members coming in from the UK for discussions and design sessions. We've been starting around 11 every morning, and often carry on with discussions until 2 or 3 AM. Just getting through a day has been powerfully exhausting, and I've repeatedly stumbled back into my hotel room in the early morning hours and just collapsed with no interest whatsoever in keeping up with email or the forums or whatever.
Despite the taxing pace, though, it's been a huge amount of fun. Every now and then something will come up and the discussion will get fairly passionate, but usually we all see fairly eye-to-eye on the major issues. There's a lot of joking and swapping of silly anecdotes and general good times. So it's been enjoyable and powerfully productive, but I'm totally knackered [smile]
We've got some really exciting stuff in the works for this next project. I can't give any specifics yet, especially since a lot of it is uncertain and maybe not even possible, but I can say that if we get even a fraction of our plans accomplished, the gameplay is going to be transformed - and vastly for the better. There are some seriously radical changes in the pipe for a few years in the future, as well - things that I think pretty much everyone will be excited to see happen in the series.
The catch to this is that our current production pipeline and methods are not up to the task. During the production of X3, a fair number of problems with our methodologies and tools came to light, and we're now in a position where we need to fix those issues. What makes it tricky is that many of the issues are deeply rooted in the philosophy and design of the existing code.
Our big goal is to deliver more - and better - content, of many different types. We're a very small team, especially in today's world of huge production studios, and to be bluntly honest we just don't have the manpower to do huge amounts of content unless our pipeline becomes more efficient. We're literally at the point where shaving seconds off of some tasks can have profound effects on the amount and quality of content that we can produce. So in order to maximize our content production ability, we have to really take a hard look at the pipeline itself and make it as robust and efficient as possible.
One specific outcome of this general situation is that we've found some very deep structural problems with the way our 3D engine handles animated data. It works great for certain classes of geometry and animation, but is simply too limited to properly handle all the nifty cool technologies we're working on. This means that roughly 90% of the 3D engine will need to get replaced entirely, built from scratch to help eliminate some legacy code dependencies. Effectively the only thing that will stay the same is our (quite good) Direct3D access layer and shader system; all geometry handling and animation handling will be rebuilt from the ground up. About 30% of the game's codebase will effectively be replaced by this restructuring.
I'm particularly interested in that because it's fallen to me to do the rewrite, at least of the core logic; there are already other programmers on the team working on retooling the art pipeline and much of the "client" code that uses the engine's services. But rebuilding the core is still a huge job - about 20,000 raw lines of code are getting replaced, and the new core has to be absolutely rock-solid so that the rest of the systems can still use it.
In some ways that's a huge thing to pile on top of my cutscene system job, but in other ways this is the only way things will ever get done. By rebuilding the system now, I can design it to make the cutscene stuff pretty easy to add. So even though it's a massive task, it actually gives me a net savings overall. Even better, it's going to radically improve our art production efficiency, which will quite likely have some profound effects on the final game [smile]
So I may be more or less incommunicado for a while. There's a huge pile of stuff to be done, but it's going to be so very worth it - even just the obvious benefits are already massive, and there will be all kinds of really cool potential that we haven't even thought of yet. It's a little early to make any real projections, but the daydreaming half of my ego can see these changes really making us a power player in the industry as a whole. We already have an amazingly capable team; we're effectively making that team several times more efficient and giving them tools to do far more than has ever been possible.
The outcome should be quite exciting to watch.