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Dreamfall Chapters

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Developer: Red Thread Games
Release Date: Nov. 2015

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'Dreamfall Chapters Book Four: Revelations' Development Halted To Focus on Unity Upgrade

by Rainier on Oct. 22, 2015 @ 9:33 a.m. PDT

Dreamfall Chapters begins right where Dreamfall: The Longest Journey ended, continuing the epic saga of the twin worlds of science and magic in a brand new format.

Dreamfall Chapters is divided into thirteen chapters and five books. Each chapter is designed for a single gameplay session — much like an episode of a TV show — and each book is designed to have a beginning, middle and end; a story arc within the greater story arc.

Revisiting familiar locations and characters, and introducing new sights and sounds, new faces, new game mechanics, new thrills and challenges, Dreamfall Chapters takes the player on an emotional, exciting and challenging journey -- from a dystopian cyberpunk future, through the mysterious and dreamlike Storytime, to the magical landscapes of Arcadia.

While initially revealed as "slightly delayed," developer Red Thread has been running into major issues porting Dreamfall Chapters Book 1-3 to Unity 5.x, and since each "Book" is part of a cohesive game, the entire package needs to be ported or not at all. As such Red Thread has decided to temp. halt development on the Book 4 chapter to focus on getting the previous installment up to par.

For the past couple of months, the Dreamfall team has divided their time between two tasks: working on Book Four, and porting previous episodes from an older version of Unity (our game engine) to the newest version of Unity.

The port was necessary for a number of reasons, including performance and stability. We decided back in June to upgrade from Unity 4.6 to Unity 5 before releasing Book Four, and we were reasonably confident that this wouldn't cause any delays.

Our internal (and unannounced) release date for Book Four was yesterday, October 21st.

So what's going on?

Unity 5 has introduced a huge number of new bugs to the game and to our production pipeline, including, but not limited to:

  • Missing and faulty lighting and shadows. (The lighting system has also seen fundamental changes. This will eventually make things look better, but it’s not working as intended yet.)
  • Missing and faulty collision. (Due to fundamental changes to the collision system, Propast pavements have become insurmountable obstacles, while walls often offer no resistance whatsoever.)
  • Random game logic hiccups. (We're testing and trying to figure out what's broken.)
  • Random crashes on load. (We're trying to figure this one out as well.)
  • Crazy, exploding scenery!
  • (And many, many other issues — too numerous to get into here.)

We’ve spent a lot of time dealing with these fundamental engine changes, updating scripts, lighting and shaders, finding workarounds to editor and build bugs, testing and re-testing all previous episodes — along with wrapping up Book Four.

This situation has become unsustainable, so today I made the difficult decision to temporarily halt work on Book Four in order to focus completely on finishing the port.

The reason for this is simple: without the first three episodes and core game engine working with Unity 5.2, we can't release episode four. Our episodes don’t stand alone: they’re part of one growing and evolving game, sharing assets and code.

Switching engine versions is always risky, but our tests back in August were positive. We remained cautiously optimistic about our deadlines through September. Unfortunately, as of today, Unity 5.2.2 remains buggy and the expected fixes have not arrived, leading to our current predicament. Since we can’t wait for Unity to release version 5.3, we have to muddle through with what we currently have.

We hope to have a beta version of Books 1-3 on Steam within the next week — fingers crossed. As soon as that happens, we’ll post the information on our official forum and ask for volunteers to help us with field testing the updated engine. When we’ve weeded out and fixed all critical bugs, we'll publish the update and the team will return to Book Four.

We don’t have a new release date yet, but it will be in November. Luckily, Book Four was produced from the get-go using Unity 5, so there'll be fewer surprises going forward. We don’t foresee any additional delays finishing up the final two episodes. Fingers crossed.

My sincerest apologies for the delay. There’s not a lot we can do about third-party engine bugs, but the responsibility for our game, our deadlines and our customers lies with us, and we don’t like letting anyone down — least of all our backers. We’ll keep you updated on how things are progressing, and I hope and trust the update (and upgrade) will be worth the wait.

Key learnings? If you can avoid it, never do major upgrades of your game engine in the middle of production. We didn’t have much choice, but we’re certainly going to refrain from further updates in the future.

It’s not all doom and gloom, however. I can safely say that Book Four (Revelations! All the Revelations!) is my favourite episode so far, and, when the new engine is working, we’re seeing improved performance and shinier graphics across the board. We'll post some evidence soon.

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