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WW2OL: Patch v0112 And The Future

by Douglas Helmer

Article Type: Interview / Update
Article Date: June 26, 2001

Patch to Version 0112




The latest patch for WWII Online: Blitzkrieg came out today, but don't get too excited. According to the README, only a few things were fixed. In fact, it's so short a list of fixes, that I'll just include it here:
  • Fixed the Win95 problem that denied users of that OS to play the game :)
  • Fixed a problem in the in-game map where CP names were not always displaying
  • Players riding vehicles are now limited to joining and jumping at low speeds (7mph or below)
  • The newer version of teulKit.dll fixes a few comm problems that should stabilize connects to the game hosts considerably.


B-dee, b-dee, That's all, Folks! I was just online now and lots of folks are actually saying they've got worse problems than before. They may have been over-reacting as none of the problems other players described occurred on my system aside from some slow frame rates at times.


So, What's The Deal With WW2OL?

Early last week I had spoke to Rodney "Hatch" Hodge about the game, its problems and where it is headed. Naturally, I began by asking him how he and the team were holding up after the server fiasco they had upon their June 8th, 2001 launch.

Hatch told me that the first weekend was very bad. Seems their giant server cluster that was designed to accommodate tens of thousands of simultaneous users was dropping packets. They weren't sure if it was their servers or the fibre optic glass "wiring" at their co-locator's facility. I asked Hatch how in the world they could've not know this would be an issue. He told me that they had simulated loads of up to 7,000 simultaneous users but that the load tests just couldn't simulate what the true reality would be like.

Once they realized they had a serious problem, they decided to break the one large server array into individual server "shards". By Saturday, June 10th, people were able to log in and the frustration levels for the Cornered Rat folks, Playnet and the customers began to subside appreciably. As Martha Stewart would say, "…and that's a good thing."

Since June 10th, I've seen as many as seven of these individual server shards available for play. Each shard, or Game World, as they call it, contains the entire Blitzkrieg theatre of war. The only problem is, however, is that each Game World is separate from the others Game Worlds so if you log into Game World #1 and spend several hours taking a certain town with your online buddies, you won't encounter the same state of affairs if you get disconnected and have to log into say, Game World #6—said town may still be in the hands of the enemy.

Hatch told me that they know this isn't the ideal situation and that they are working feverishly toward reunification of all the servers so that there's just one Game World for everyone. I asked when that might be and he said it would be within thirty days if all goes well.


Priorities

I asked Hatch what they were working on in addition to the server reunification. He told me that their priorities were increasing FPS, reducing the RAM requirements of the code, and communicating these and all other plans for improvements with the customers as effectively as possible. Seemed reasonable to me. I asked about the lag many people were complaining about and Hatch explained that most of this "lag" was actually people's own systems accessing the hard drive.
“Frame rates, RAM requirements and communicating with disgruntled customers are the top priorities”
Unfortunately, because most people don't have the 384 MB plus-worth of RAM needed for decent frame rates, their systems are constantly going into the hard drive to find objects it needs for displaying on the screen. I experienced this problem myself and found that a thorough power defrag (with virtual memory set to 0) and a system-wide tweaking and optimization helped to dramatically reduce disk access times and hence improved my overall in-game performance. Extra RAM helped too. I strongly suggest everybody follow the system tweaking recommendations of the various online FAQ's at the official WW2OL site, the affiliate WWII Online Headquarters site, or the FPS Enhancements discussion found HERE.

I then asked about what I believe to be the ridiculous initial load time of four to five minutes for the game. (Obviously Hatch had been asked this question several times already because I could sense the frustration in his voice when he answered.) He told me that the reason for the long load time was both the size of the arena and the sheer number of textures in the game. I must admit, there are more different types of trees, bushes, grass, buildings, roads, fences, and even monuments than I've ever seen in an online game let alone a stand alone game.

I told Hatch that I did understand this would cause the game to take longer to load but that I anticipated that paying customers would get tired of waiting every time they logged in (which, if they get disconnected, could be several times per session).

Hatch did say that they were working on refining the biasing of the game. Biasing is what the game does when it tries to decide what you could see and what you need to see in the game. Just as the graphics settings allow you to set certain high resolution graphic details on and off, so too does the overall game engine need to decide what objects you need to see. It's a tough call, however. For example, (and this is pure speculation on my part) an infantryman may decide to lay down in some tall grass thinking he is hidden from low-flying aircraft, but if the game designers decide they have to sacrifice tall grass for pilots because it improves frame rates it could create an unfair advantage for the pilots.


Feedback. Need More Feedback!

Rather than belabour Hatch with questions about the obvious technical shortcomings of the game, I changed gears and moved onto some questions about actual game features. One of my biggest gripes (poor Hatch) is the lack of feedback the system gives when you attack an enemy.

In all MMOG combat sims, the game server gives you either textual or visual feedback when you shoot at an enemy (provided you hit him of course). The visual info is usually debris coming off the target or explosions, flames and smoke effects. The textual info is a short sentence of info such as You damaged JoeBlows right landing gear!
“In WW2OL, there is only minimal visual feedback and no textual feedback whatsoever”
In WW2OL, there is only minimal visual feedback and no textual feedback whatsoever. Hatch said that yes, this was indeed a problem and that after they get the major frame rate, RAM, and server reunification issues dealt with they would be getting back to the game features such as this.

Starry, Starry Night

Every three hours there is a 30 minute night cycle. Apparently it is 15 minutes of dusk, then 30 minutes of night, then 15 minutes of dawn. There is a bug in the dawn cycle, however as it becomes light and then goes back to night again. Players are calling this the false dawn. I've encountered this night cycle more often than I'd like to. As I usually go into the game as a pilot, I find the transition to night very frustrating as there's nothing to do for thirty minutes but to fly around in circles. Sure, night may be great for tankers and infantry men when they want to sneak into or out of a town under the cover of darkness, but for pilots it's a real downer. Hatch was quite emphatic that the night cycle was a good thing and would be staying so we pilots will have to find something else to do for those thirty minutes or perfect our instrument flying.


Radar Love


I love in-game radar because it lets me know where the action is and, more specifically, where individual enemies are. Radar is usually modeled as part of the pop-up map or as part of the edge of the main forward-looking display. In WW2OL there is no radar because, as Hatch explained, there was no radar in the 1940 Blitzkrieg on France. Yeah, sure, but . . . whaaa! I want radar. Why? I love authenticity as much as the next guy, but I find myself wasting too much time in WW2OL looking for a fight.

Radar Map in Aces High

If you are in a plane, this isn't so bad because you can get around fairly quickly . . . but finding another enemy plane to fight will depend on either someone else telling you where there's a potential furball to be had or just dumb luck. Dumb luck is very authentic, I'll grant you, but I don't necessarily have an hour or more to spend in the game every time I log in.

Radar Map in Air Warrior



Radar Map (in overlay mode) in Warbirds

If I were in a tank, getting to the fight, even when you know where it is, can take at least fifteen minutes in most cases. If you only have thirty minutes of play time allotted to you by your spouse, parent, or keeper, then you'll spend half your time driving. If you get killed right away, then you'll spend more time respawning and then when you get back in, you'll need to make that trip to the battle again. All I'm saying, and I know this will rankle the WW2OL folks, but they may want to consider an "instant action" arena.

Regular Radar Map in Warbirds III

What Is Your Position?

A very big peeve I've had is that the in-game pop-up map is not zoomable. According to Hatch, this will be rectified. Right now, without the ability to zoom-out, the map is useless for navigation purposes as you can't see more than one or two towns at a time.

WW2OL Map. No Radar, No Enemy Info. Non-zoomable



WW2OL Map. Luckily, I'm over some towns so I could get my bearings. You'll want to print out the map for navigational purposes.

Until the map is zoom out-able, I suggest you do what I and most of the other veterans of these last few weeks have done and that is to print out the Blitzkrieg Game World map and stick it on your wall. You can find it at the WWII Online Headquarters site. I find I am referring to it every few seconds when others are communicating their coordinates over the radio. As you fly from one town to the other, having the wall map is an invaluable adjunct to the existing non-zoomable in-game map.

Print out the map and stick it on your wall

What's Your Rank, Soldier?

Currently, the mission system and rank system are not in place although they are complete according to Hatch. Gameplay will change significantly once the rank system goes into effect when the free period ends. The rank system will determine what vehicle you can or cannot have. For example, if you've been going into battle with a Spitfire or Bf-109 you won't be able to do that when the rank system goes into effect because Mercenaries (which is what we all start as) don't qualify for such powerful, sophisticated aircraft.

So, if you don't want to be flying Hurricanes and getting shot down all the time, you'll have to play lots and improve your rank in order to qualify for the good vehicles. I believe this will actually be a good thing because the arenas are just an aircraft and tank fest right now. With the rank system in place, infantry tactics will become more important and that could prove to very fun actually. The reduction in the fast-moving, high-density air traffic may also off-load some of the burden on the game servers that have to keep the state of everything updated all the time.

If you are worried about being cannon fodder as an infantryman, Hatch tells me that soldiers will be getting a new weapon—satchel charges.
“…Hatch tells me that soldiers will be getting a new weaponsatchel charges. ”
One satchel charge under an enemy tank will take it out of action…that night cycle ain't looking so bad now, eh? If you want to survive in your tank, you better have a few infantrymen beside you during nighttime or you may find yourself doing the ol' celebrity blow-up a la John Candy.

One last note about ranks: any of the low to medium ranked players will be able to switch sides from Allies to Axis if they want. Higher ranking players, those who can participate in mission planning, will not be able swap sides because they could tip-off enemy players as to the date, time, and strategy of an upcoming offensive. I asked Hatch how in the world they were going to prevent people from being spies because a high-ranking player could simply phone another high-ranking player and spill his guts (for money, liquor, and women, of course).
“Higher ranking players, those who can participate in mission planning, will not be able swap sides because they could tip-off enemy players…”
Hatch said that anyone caught spying would be banned from playing. Well, I guess they have to catch them first, is all I can say. I, personally, think that spies, or fifth column if you will, should be a part of the game. But that's just me. I can just see it now, some player in Ohio becomes the highest ranking official for his side but his paranoia levels with regard to spies makes him retreat to his parent's 1950s-era nuclear bunker with his girlfriend Eva.


The War Proper

WW2OL as we all know is about the German Blitzkrieg on France in 1940 and not the first Blitzkrieg on Poland in 1939. I asked Hatch how the war would progress; would it be in real-time or what? Hatch pointed out that "real-time" isn't really possible since one side may actually win the war faster or slower than it actually occurred back in 1940.

If one side does win the war by capturing all the assets on the map, then the war starts over from square one. If the war does continue long enough, however, players will see newer and more sophisticated weapons introduced over time and these will replace the existing weapons. I asked if infantry would get to use bazookas and Hatch pointed out that they didn't have bazookas in 1940 but they might show up later on.

I then asked when we'd get to fight in the other theatres of war and which would be next to come online. Hatch told me that the next theatre of war would either be China / Burma / India or North Africa. He figured that China / Burma / India would probably be next.

Eventually, when all the theatres have been released, Hatch told me that it is conceivable that you could captain a destroyer from England and sail it all the way to Hong Kong (not that you would do that, but you could). I was amazed at that and asked again how long before these new theatres come online. Hatch said that after they get all their current issues with performance resolved he could give me an answer.

The Future


The one question I really wanted answered was whether or not Hatch felt WW2OL would be around by this time next year. This is obviously not a fair question to ask a guy whose entire livelihood is wrapped up in the game, but I threw caution to the wind and asked anyway. To my surprise, Hatch was quite candid. He said that he knew they needed to make improvements but that the Magic 8-Ball is saying "Outlook Good". (To me, at least, I thought that was a very candid reply coming from a Public Relations executive.)

Now, considering what I learned about the upcoming theatres, Hatch may well be justified in being optimistic. I, for some reason, was under the misapprehension that when the new theatres of war came online that I'd get to play them. Wrong! If you look at the box your WW2OL came in you'll notice the subtitle "Blitzkrieg." Confused? Here, let me clarify. We paid for the Blitzkrieg theatre and that's it. If you want to play China / Burma / India, or North Africa, or the War in the Pacific, you'll have to buy it. Yes, buy it just like you did with Blitzkrieg.
“If you want to play China / Burma / India, or North Africa, or the War in the Pacific, you'll have to buy it.”
Frankly, it's a brilliant marketing strategy but it may be greeted with a few howls from the "Everything on the Internet is SUPPOSED to be free" crowd. The reason for the cost, again according to Hatch, is that each theatre of war brings with it entirely new maps (obviously), terrains, weapons and vehicles. These objects cost money to develop so they'll cost us money to receive. Makes perfect capitalistic sense actually so we should all get used to it. Again, whether the player base will support each new theatre of war as it comes on-stream remains to be seen, however.



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