Winter 2023 Development Update

Hello! The team has been making steady progress since our update in the summer. We've been hard at work merging our creative, design and technical efforts into a single team endeavor focused on delivering Hytale. Before we share more, let's recap the last three years of Hytale's development.

In the first half of 2021, we identified that we needed to redevelop Hytale's tech fundamentals in order to deliver a game that meets the expectations of players and creators. After a period of investigation, we committed to building a new custom engine and brought on a development partner to help us do so. As this effort was underway, we continued to make progress in other areas. We began actively prototyping and playtesting new takes on adventure content, player movement, creative tools, creature AI, and combat. We also expanded our character personalization approach, doubling down on our players' identities as creative, world-shaping beings called Avatars.

As 2021 drew to a close, we showed off some of this progress as part of Riot's Undercity Nights event. Taking advantage of the extra pre-production time we've been afforded by the engine change, we also began a far-reaching creative re-exploration of the world of Orbis, the setting for Hytale's adventure experience. We'll dig deeper into one aspect of that re-exploration later in this post.

These efforts – creative and technical – continued into 2022. In our summer update that year, we talked more about the reasoning behind the engine change, teased some new biomes and landscapes for Orbis, and reintroduced our vision for Hytale as a whole. Meanwhile, as engine redevelopment continued, we dived deep into every aspect of Orbis as we began to prototype new advanced building tools, more sophisticated VFX, and a fresh approach to Hytale's UI.

This year, we've brought engine development fully in-house and steadily expanded our team. In a very exciting milestone, we hosted our first external playtest – a sign of things to come! As Noxy and I discussed earlier in the year, 2023 has been about staffing our team so that we're ready for 2024, integrating our gameplay systems and workflows with the new engine, and moving our creative and prototyping efforts forward in preparation for the next wave of playtests.

New Engine Progress

This year, the team has been ramping up to take full advantage of our shiny new engine's capabilities while beginning to integrate the latest breakthroughs from our world generation and encounter design teams. The needs of creators are always on our mind, so we've also been working to get tools and content creation workflows online in the new engine.

Our rendering team is hard at work on replicating the look and feel of Hytale in the new engine, and we're looking forward to sharing a side-by-side with our old engine when we're ready. At the moment, however, our primary focus has been on performance and functionality, not beauty. We’ll share some of these 'ugly duckling' moments when we're out of this awkward, self-conscious phase! We’re also looking forward to sharing content from the new engine once it properly reflects our vision for Hytale.

Meanwhile, the team continues to use the legacy engine to prototype experiences and improve our development processes. Over the coming months, more and more of our team will move over to working in the new engine, bringing that expertise with them.

Adventure Advancements

Our adventure team has two missions. First, they're creating the tools and content necessary for players to tell their own stories in a blocky world. Then, they're using these same tools to build the world of Orbis, the setting for Hytale's official adventure experience.

Orbis fulfills two roles within Hytale. Avatars love to create and experience new worlds, alone and with friends, and Orbis provides the baseline from which many such worlds can be made. This, naturally, is our primary focus. However, Orbis is also where we get to tell tales of our own, through adventure experiences that we refer to as the Story of Orbis.

We've spent a lot of time revisiting Orbis' history, creatures and characters over the last year, taking a critical look at every element to ensure it matches our goals for the game. Much of this effort has been focused on Orbis' factions: cultures like the Kweebecs and Trorks, Ferans, and Scaraks. We've been making real progress here, expanding their roles and capabilities and deepening their backstories. By way of an example, let's look at a character that has undergone a significant change: the Kweebec Treesinger.

You can see the old Treesinger design in the image above. Treesingers play an important role in Kweebec villages. They're tale-tellers and respected leaders, responsible for passing down the wisdom of the ages to each new generation of Seedlings. This role cannot be adopted without sacrifice. In normal circumstances, older Kweebecs eventually put down roots and become trees known as Elders. In this form, they can slumber for great spans of time as village life continues around them.

Treesingers, however, resist this transformation. In doing so, they become intermediaries between young Kweebecs and their sleeping Elders, a bridge between the past and the present. While we've always been fond of the bearded Treesingers of old, we wanted to open up this particular design to reinterpretation. Here are a few of our initial explorations.

After working through several iterations with our artists and designers, we started to favor a much larger, more ponderous version of our wisened Kweebec. We resonated with this image of a Treesinger who, after resting in one spot for slightly too long, has to exert significant willpower to pull its roots from the ground and start moving again...

It was then up to our animation, 3D modeling and VFX teams to bring these reimagined Kweebecs to life.

The great thing about collaborative efforts like this one is the way it brings new ideas and greater depth to our worldbuilding. For example: the process of redesigning Treesingers led us to re-evaluate how Kweebecs build their homes and craft their equipment. One of our artists suggested that they might use music to encourage plants to grow into helpful shapes. This was the seed of what we now refer to as Sungwood: an ornate wooden material that you can see in Kweebec clothing, weapons, and in their redesigned villages (more on that in a bit!)

This is one small example of a much larger creative effort. We have a lot more to share in the future, as every single faction has undergone a re-evaluation much like this one. This isn't even the only new kind of Kweebec...

A Capital for Avatars

In Hytale, the heart of online social play is a shared space called the Capital. This is where players from all parts of Hytale come together to make friends, share experiences, compete in minigames, discover new adventures, seek challenges, trade, show off pets and companions, and more. It's the home of adventurers, competitors, and creative players from across the breadth of the game.

The Capital is a testament to all of the things that Avatars have built and achieved in the past, and looks ahead to the exciting things they'll do in the future. Most importantly, though, it's intended to be a celebration of what the Hytale community is up to.

Development of the Capital has been another important part of this year’s creative and design effort. While we’re not yet ready for a full unveiling, I wanted to make sure we touched on the nature of the work we're doing here – while we've talked a lot about Orbis over the years, we've not shared much about this key Hytale environment. Needless to say, we'll have much more to share in the future.

What's Next

As 2023 winds down, we're looking forward to 2024. As mentioned earlier, the first half of the year will be focused on getting the whole team onboarded into the new engine. We're also going to be significantly ramping up our external playtesting efforts, focusing on collecting feedback on adventure experiences, creator tools, and social and competitive play.

These user tests and process advancements are important steps in getting us ready to enter full production. Thank you for hanging with us while we've gone through the transformations necessary to get our studio and project to this point. While I understand the desire for dates and roadmaps, the work we're currently doing is essential in order for us to make accurate projections in the future. 

I'm happy to report that we're closing off the year on track for our milestones in the new engine and excited to move forward. You can expect our updates to grow in frequency as we move into this next phase of Hytale's development, particularly when we're in a position to once again show off in-engine gameplay.

For now, we'll leave you with a teaser of some new music! Along with a glimpse at a busy village, deep in the forests of Orbis…

To download a .zip file containing the art and concept clip featured in this post, click here!