Summer 2021 Development Update
Hello everyone! In today’s post, we’re going to provide an update on the progress we’ve made in the last six months, explain how our plans for Hytale have evolved, and take a look at some new and updated aspects of the game including weapon-specific combat styles, character customization, and AI.
The first half of 2021 has been a period of significant change, both for Hytale and for Hypixel Studios. We’ve continued to recruit new team members, whose talents and unique perspectives have expanded our sense of what Hytale can be. We’ve changed the way we work, steadily moving away from the exploratory approach that has defined the project’s first few years towards more efficient, targeted production milestones. At the same time, our design for Hytale has been evolving. Some parts of the game have undergone radical change, while in other areas we’ve expanded on established groundwork.
At the core of all of this is a commitment to creating the best game we possibly can—to making a contribution to the genre that surprises and delights players while empowering creators for many years to come.
Our plan for Hytale is ambitious, and we’re very fortunate to be in a position where we have the time, people and resources that we need to get it right. However, “getting it right” involves a ton of experimentation, iteration, and change. This introduces a lot of uncertainty to the development process, and while we believe this is healthy—it’s been good to challenge our assumptions!—it has also meant that we’ve been less open than we used to be. We’ve needed space and time to make major decisions about the project.
Even so, we know that half a year is a long time to wait for an update. The reason that answers have not been more forthcoming this year is because, until recently, we did not have them. We have spent this time considering many possible approaches to launch, factoring in many different perspectives, doing a ton of research, and developing a better understanding of what we need to do in order to meet our goals.
What has become increasingly apparent is that we have several more years of work ahead of us before Hytale is ready to launch. We don’t want to provide another estimated launch window that turns out to be incorrect. However, we no longer expect to be ready to launch Hytale before 2023 at the earliest, and it could very well take longer.
There are two key considerations driving this assessment. The first is that our capabilities as a studio have significantly improved and the scope of what we can do has expanded. Put simply: we’re better at making games than we used to be, but taking full advantage of this takes time.
The second consideration is the need to develop Hytale in a way that allows us to bring it to multiple platforms as rapidly as possible. It’s always been our goal to eventually release Hytale on mobile and consoles as well as PC, but it has become apparent that we were heading for a scenario where our community would ultimately find itself split across versions and devices. We think it is enormously important to avoid this—to create an ecosystem where as many players as possible can play together and share their creations. However, this means making major changes to Hytale’s engine and our approach to launch, and this extends development time.
Arriving at this decision has been a challenging process. None of us expected this to be such a long project, and we’re aware that this approach brings its own risks and costs. We’re mindful of the dangers of ‘scope creep’, and we’re working to ensure that we proceed with a strong sense of what ‘done’ means.
We also know that prolonged development is going to be unwelcome news for the Hytale community. We stated back in December that we didn’t believe it was fair to allow anticipation to remain at fever pitch, however we’re aware that reduced communication over the last six months has allowed speculation to bubble back up again, and that news of a longer wait is likely to be a shock to many. Even so, we strongly believe that the choice to spend longer in development will serve our community best in the long run.
It’s worth reiterating that we won’t release Hytale as a surprise. When we’re on the final approach to launch, we’ll let everybody know in plenty of time. There will undoubtedly be new job listings, updates to our website, and changes to our back-end systems in the intervening period: while we understand the temptation to interpret these as a sign that launch is imminent, they’re a normal part of our working process and not an indication that our plans have changed.
Another consequence of this approach is that weekly screenshots are no longer a viable way for us to update the community. The major technical changes that we’re making will mean that, for a time, it will be more complicated to produce screenshots and clips that accurately reflect the experience that players will have when Hytale launches. We’re also looking at a longer production process, and we want to make sure that Hytale has some surprises left in store when players get their hands on it.
However, as has already been said, our need for privacy over the last six months has been driven by the tough decisions that we needed to make. Now that those decisions are made, and our broader plans announced, it’s possible for us to open up a little bit more and be more engaged with the community. In that regard, you can expect our approach to communication to change: we’ll post fewer, more substantial official updates, interspersed with increased engagement from the team as we go about the day-to-day work of building Hytale.
This has been a challenging set of decisions to make, but the position we’re in is extremely fortunate. We’re in this position because of the huge response to the Hytale announcement, as well as the energy and enthusiasm that the Hytale community has subsequently invested in our project. We are enormously grateful for that investment, and it’ll be at the forefront of our minds when we’re finally ready to share Hytale with you all.
In the meantime, let’s take a look at some new stuff.
Expanded character personalization
The personalization of your player character is a central theme of Hytale. We're making a game that offers a lot of different ways to play, from solo or co-op adventure to minigames and other social activities. Your character is at the heart of all of these, a living expression of your choices, experiences, and achievements.
We want to ensure that players feel unconstrained in their creativity and self-expression, and that has meant taking a new approach to the player character—who they are, what they can be, and how they fit into the world of Hytale.
Our player characters are Avatars—the powerful, playful and protean denizens of a boundless realm known as the Alterverse. Drawn to Orbis by a mysterious cosmic event, many Avatars find themselves adopting forms influenced by this emergent world. However, others manifest unique forms inspired by the infinite diversity of the wider Alterverse—and all Avatars are free to adjust their appearance as the mood strikes them.
You are free to mix and match basic components like faces, eyes and hair, layer on additional fantastic elements like horns, pointy ears or tusks, and combine these with modern fashions, adventuring garb, or cosplay. We’re continually working to expand the options available, while also extending our layering system to allow for more sophisticated customization of clothing and gear. We want players to feel free to carve out their own identities, and to feel supported in doing this both by the suite of options on offer and by the story of Hytale itself. Creativity and change are the lifeblood of the Alterverse, and Avatars are its living expression.
The name 'Avatar' captures the double role that every player character fulfills, both as a character in a high-fantasy adventure story and as an expression of their player's online identity. We know from experience how important it is to let players create personas that follow them seamlessly not just between the various game modes of Hytale, but beyond to their social media accounts and creator channels. These are all forms of creative expression, at the end of the day!
A new approach to combat
We've begun completely rebuilding Hytale's combat system over the course of the last year, prototyping and testing several revisions before adopting our current approach. At the heart of these changes are the weapons that each Avatar carries.
Which weapons you carry forms the cornerstone of your combat playstyle, providing you with a set of abilities specific to that weapon type. We want to make sure that weapons feel distinct from one another, offering more than simple changes to attack speed or damage.
Alongside these changes, we've also overhauled the audio and VFX for combat to emphasise the power of each blow. The UI is also undergoing significant changes to support the new combat system, including dedicated UI elements for new features like stamina, blocking, and signature moves (more on those in a bit!) We're not ready to share these changes just yet, which is why we've disabled the UI in the clips below.
Let's take a look at two examples!
In this clip, we run through the fundamental moveset of the one-handed sword. Basic attacks take the form of a three-hit combo, striking from the right and left followed by an overhead chop. The sword's special attack is a charged lunge, which incorporates a short dash and applies knockback to the target.
The sword's signature move, which is charged by landing blows and blocking incoming strikes, is a dramatic spin followed by another powerful lunge. This does damage in an area while rewarding good positioning with the ability to deal sudden damage to a key foe.
The sword is a weapon that favors defensive and reactive play, offering good utility in the form of lunges and knockback while providing steady damage output. It pairs well with a shield, which provides the ability to block frontal attacks as long as the wielder has sufficient stamina. Good stamina management allows sword and shield users to safely charge their signature move by blocking blows, allowing them to follow up with a powerful precision strike.
In PVP, sword and shield users are difficult to pin down and overwhelm—they can achieve surprising mobility with their charged lunge, and can control the pace of a fight with their shield. However, baiting out unnecessary blocks and outlasting their stamina leaves them vulnerable and reduces their ability to flee.
Here's a very different weapon: the mace. Mace strikes are slow, consume a chunk of stamina, but do plenty of damage and knockback. Basic attacks take the form of steady right-left swings, while the alternate attack provides a high-knockback hilt bash. The mace can be charged to perform a powerful special attack, and its signature is a devastating leaping slam that deals massive damage and knockback to all enemies near its impact zone.
Good mace players are always aware of the timing and direction of their strike and avoid wasting stamina on wild swings. Their defensive power comes entirely from managing the flow of battle with knockback, so positioning and situational awareness are key. It's certainly less safe than hiding behind a shield, but makes a mace-wielder significantly more dangerous when fighting near an environmental hazard like a cliff or lava.
These are two of the weapon types that we’ve been working on. We've also been testing new playstyles for daggers, which favor hit-and-run attacks and provide a ton of bonus mobility, and battleaxes, which build up powerful damage boosts by landing successive hits, encouraging all-in aggression.
The next step is to extend this depth and variety to ranged weapons, while giving players additional ways to customize their playstyle through the use of armor and trinkets. The overall goal of this system is to encourage players to compose their own approach to combat by combining a wide array of meaningfully distinct elements.
In the last six months, the team has made substantial additions to Hytale's modular AI system in order to add depth, interest, and variety to PVE combat. The new system, which we've been calling the 'Combat Action Evaluator', allows NPCs to make smarter decisions about targets, weapons, and approaches to battle.
The system allows specific creatures to express their personalities through the way they fight. NPCs assess various conditions—including number and behaviour of foes—in order to guide their next action. These range from the target and timing of their basic attacks to the execution of specific actions, like switching weapons, using a special attack, or fleeing.
The system is built to be configurable and allows for a variable degree of 'fuzziness'—just because the system can choose an optimal move, that doesn't mean that NPCs have to use them. We've built it in this way in order to prevent NPCs from becoming predictable—we've found that characters have a greater sense of life when they're allowed to make mistakes!
Here's an example of the new system in action. The following clip shows a duel between two Avatars armed with swords and shields. One of these characters is being controlled by a player, and the other is an AI.
Our goal wasn't necessarily to create an AI that could perfectly mimic a player—but we've gotten closer than we expected! This duelling AI has proved useful for testing new weapon designs, and it's claimed its fair share of victories against some of the better PVPers on the team!
We know that this has been a long post, with a lot of new information to digest, and we want to reiterate how grateful we are for the passion and enthusiasm of the Hytale community. The development of Hytale continues to be a long, exciting, challenging journey, and it’s not always been easy—particularly when we’ve had to make tough decisions. At the end of the day, however, what motivates us is a desire to do right by our team and by our community.
We’ll leave you with a new track from the Hytale OST—Adventure and Chill, by Hytale composer Oscar Garvin. This track was composed as an introduction to Hytale as a whole, branching out from the main theme to touch on all of the different elements of the game we’re creating: an immersive and inviting world, a welcoming social space, and a creative sandbox with boundless opportunities for self-expression. Bringing this world to life has turned out to be more challenging than any of us expected, but we’re more confident than ever that we’re heading in the right direction.
To download a .zip containing the video clips featured in this post, click here!