Trophy Lodges have been on our agenda for ages. When I say for ages, I really mean for ages. The very first mention of it on the forum goes back almost to the beginning of theHunter, year of 2008. Since then suggestions of some sort of trophy room have been popping up regularly, both in the forum and in our surveys where they always ended up in top tier of the most desired features. Despite this, the idea of the trophy room kept being moved down on priority list in favour of less daunting features. It felt like too huge an endeavour for a small and lean team as ours has always been, so the risks of commencing on such an adventure have been outweighing the expected rewards, and the trophy room post-it kept being put aside, time after time. Until December 2016.
Back then we gathered together for one of our brainstorm session to nail down what we would be working on in the upcoming year. Those sessions usually happen twice per year and are fun (and sometimes slightly crazy) discussions where everyone throws in ideas and we all talk tech, feasibility, community reactions and many other factors that need to fall together for a new feature to make its way to the roadmap. That time our 3D artist Mattias drew a fireplace with an antler rack above on a post-it and showed it to us as a first concept of a trophy room. Although usual concerns being brought up (Can we even do it on our engine? How long will it take? Where can we cut corners? Shall we take a “lighter” approach?), all of us got super inspired by the image of a cozy “room”, filled with gorgeous animal trophies and memories that are unique for each and every player. We looked at each other and said “what the heck, let’s do this, and do it right”. And so it began.
The work, as usual, started with putting the vision into design, compelling and comprehensible both for the team to work on and the players to follow. Our game designer Patrick took a first stab at it in January 2017 and it took at least a month of team brainstorms, multiple amount of changes and adjustments before we all felt that we have something we could work with. During those early meeting sparks would fly, not once but often our lead programmer Roberto would have to flush his infamous black book with the huge NO sign on it (when the rest of us went a bit too wild in our imaginations), but in the end we all managed to achieve something we could unite behind and what is, more or less, what you see released today, although we ended up changing, adding and cutting quite a few things as the development progressed.
From a game design perspective the biggest challenge was coming up with a gameplay loop that felt right and true to theHunter, which would encourage players to get their trophies taxidermized. With Patrick at the steering wheel we broke the whole design into small pieces and discussed how to tackle the amount of rooms, how it will all work in multiplayer, how to solve the placement of trophies, what to do with the indoor lighting, something we have never had in theHunter before, and other stuff. In general, in the game design we tried to find the balance between offering our players as much freedom as possible in using this feature while maintaining a strict gameplay framework which would make it possible for us to implement it technically. One example of such balance has been the decision to go for pre-set plaques and platforms and divide all our existing animals between them.
“My favorite part with working on this amazing new feature”, Patrick says, “was when we finally were able to add taxidermied animals to the Trophy Lodge itself. It sort of felt like playing The Sims again but with a hunting mindset. Being able to place melanistic variations of animals all around my lodge gave me a satisfying feeling since melanistics are just awesome. Otherwise having the honor to create the initial representation of the lodge was an amazing opportunity since I saw it as my first step into the deep and complex field of game design itself.”
In the meantime our 3d artists Mattias and Johan started to work on the concept art for the Trophy Lodge itself. There were simple drawings picturing the layout and general look and feel. The initial plan was to create two different styles at the release, but due to time limitations we had to focus on one, the Classy style.
Mattias created a mock-up model of the entire lodge in the game to get a sense of scale and try out how animal trophies would fit. This was our first challenge, and in the end he had to increase the initial room space several times, because trying different animal sizes really made the room look small. Some of the antlers are huge!
Once the mock-up was nailed, Mattias and Johan made a long list of art assets that would be present in the room and assigned each of those priorities. So, walls and floorings would be on top of it, whereas the whisky and cigar corner, something all of us really wanted to see in the game, was cut due to time constraints.
After all the assets were finished the artists ran into another curveball. They had to re-furnish the room, trying to make it large enough for all the big animals (they were taking the largest animal per species as a benchmark) and look cozy at the same time. The most challenging task was definitely to scale the lodge correctly. Mattias and Johan had to go through several different mockups of room layout and size before it finally felt good. And even after they started asset creation they had to go back and scale the room further. Always larger.
The final step, if one doesn’t count bug fixing, was to create a “bake” for the static light, which is making a black and white texture with lighting information. After that it needs to be applied to the scene; the furniture, the walls and floor. This really helps everything go together better.
When asked about his favourite thing about working on the Trophy Lodge, Mattias says, “The best part was a certain point in the development when I felt we really had something going on; and that was when we made a small video for an internal presentation! Every visual bug was sorted out and it really felt like we had a chance to get it right. Work-wise I also appreciated working with rendering the lights for the room.”
From the animation side, Moe’s task was to pose all our existing animals on their respective plaques and platforms. Sometimes it was challenging to fit some animals with large antlers on their large wall plaques while still maintaining a good looking pose for smaller antler and animal variations, as those plaques are very versatile and can fit smaller deer to larger ones. That’s why when placing your trophies with huge antlers on the wall plaques, you would need to be smart where to mount them.
In the beginning we decided to go for just one pose per animal to save some time and work, but about a month ago Moe suggested we try to add support for multiple poses to make things more versatile. Our programmer Patrik tried it out and managed to get it done in a couple of hours, that’s why now you are able to switch between 3 poses per animal, and some of them have 5.
When we started to work on the Trophy Lodge we knew that it would bring a lot of technical challenges, and it did.
The first problem we needed to solve was the Trophy Animal system. Specifically, how to reuse the most from the animals we already have in the game, being able to recreate the very same beautiful antlers, at the same time saving as little data as possible on the server side.
As this entity is something new for our code (we have items, animals, critters, all with their own specifics, but nothing that would combine characteristics of both animals and items), we had to create a new one. In the end we managed to create a new kind of item – TrophyAnimalItem – that bring all of this with it, saving only a few magic numbers for the antlers and avoiding to change anything in the current animal and population system. Patrik did an amazing job creating a dedicated loading system for the TrophyAnimalItems, making it easy to expand and maintain.
Along with the new type of item came the way of managing the Trophy Lodge itself with all the trophies and the dynamic plaques. Roberto and his team created a file where the designer and artist would bind the plaques and platforms in the settings with the real object in the game, managing to enable only those that are actually used. All of this is then synced with the back-end and the new Trophy Manager interface that Luna created.
At this point we had to establish communication with the server to be able to update the status of the lodge with all the animals at their right places with their right textures and poses if one leaves the Trophy Lodge. To do this, Roberto and Luna decided to create a .json file with all the information about the animals in the lodge. When the game client loads the lodge it sends the request to the server about the updated lodge data and then recreates the trophy animals with all their poses on the fly.
To place your animal in the Trophy Lodge you need to be able to taxidermize it, so Robin created a smart system that manages communication with the server, the interface and the way the client stores the data for the animals we harvest. We had to make some changes to the harvest flow, specifically in the trophy shot system, but in the end it was absolutely worth it.
When everything for a real Trophy Lodge experience was in place code-wise, the client programmer team focused on the multiplayer functionality, like the synchronization of the position of the players, so that different players can be in different lodges at the same time without clashing together or seeing each other. We ran into a whole bouquet of issues here, both related to fast-travelling and collision hiccups, but in the end, with a lot of effort and passion we managed to nail them, hopefully all 😉
As always, there is stuff that could be improved and things that we could add but we laid out a very solid foundation and are really happy that we managed to solve all the tech challenges which, historically, is something that has been holding us back the most.
Luna’s part in the project has been quite significant too. On her plate there were:
- Server (both engine configuration, tracking taxidermy data and tracking lodge data)
- Game UI (lodge selection and trophy manager, as well as linking things with the client)
- Launcher (fridging functionality)
The main issue was time, and the amount of things that needed to be done. Thankfully, Luna managed to maintain a good pace and get everything finished and polished up a few days before our planned release date.
For the Game UI, we decided that starting fresh with a new codebase for those particular UI panes would be a good idea, it was a lot of fun making those from scratch with more modern code and a new way of working.
Beyond that, the server bits were rather interesting, it might not look like it, but the server has to do a lot of work and tracking behind the scenes to make sure everything stays consistent and everyone gets their trophies.
As you can tell from the above, what we are hyped to present to you today is the result of many months of hard work by the whole team. Sometimes we didn’t know whether we would pull it off at all, sometimes we ran into a brick wall and had to engage all the creativity we had to get out of horrible situations. Some things got waived and scraped along the way, some things were added, some things were left out for future iterations, and we really hope we will have them one day soon! All in all, we are extremely proud of what we have achieved as a team and we hope you will use the Trophy Lodges, fill them up with your proud trophies and feel the love and care we poured into it.
We hope that the story of the Trophy Lodge in theHunter doesn’t stop here. We already have some plans for some future iterations and additions. What are they? You tell us! We are looking forward to continue developing this awesome feature together with you.