Creating a new environment is one of the most satisfying jobs at the studio. It’s a very creative and exciting process that you know thousands of players will enjoy. On the other hand, it’s also one of the most intense and time-consuming artistic jobs in the Liftoff development.
When you have a vision it’s often a very daunting step to get started on actually producing it. After all, how do you start building something so huge in size that has to look good both on the ground and in the air? It’s one thing to make an environment and another to make it fun and believable. The devil is in the details, and these details only come to life at the end of the development process. Up until the final touches everything looks a little fake and bland and you just have to trust that everything will eventually turn out great. Luckily it always does! 🙂
It’s not just about the looks either. There’s a lot more involved than throwing together some 3D models and calling it a day. A flyable environment has to be functional as well, and that’s the biggest challenge of all. The entire scene, for example, needs to be furnished with accurate collision geometry, (which, you may be surprised to hear, is completely separate from the visual geometry) and which in Liftoff’s case also carries information about the kind of material you are colliding with and what effect that collision should have on your drone. The game also needs to know how far and high you are allowed to fly in this area, where your FPV signal starts deteriorating and where you are allowed to place Track items in the Track Builder. Last but not least, this detailed scene we have just created needs to perform well on the thousands of different computers our players use. This is a difficult balancing act and often means making some tough decisions about which level elements to keep and which to cut, or how to preserve them with clever trickery or technical workarounds.
It’s about time!
If we love creating environments so much, why don’t we release more of them on a regular basis? It’s all about time or rather the lack thereof. Our two latest environments, Hannover and Paris Drone Festival, each were in production for about 3 to 4 months. Considering we have a limited team, once someone starts working on such a large project, that person can’t work on other things, such as adding new frames, parts or game features. It’s a constant battle of prioritizing various development goals.
However, when we claim environments take a lot of time to create, theres some surprising exceptions to this rule.
The origins of Straw Bale
Since the beginning of time, straw is usually gathered and stored in what we call a straw bale. These odd shapes structures created from straw have no real agricultural function. Being a construct of a global visionary mindset, these things were created to eventually find a real purpose: the creation of a legendary environment in Liftoff. Created in just a few hours time, it’s fair to say the vision for the Straw Bale environment is as old as human civilization itself! 😉
For those of you who have been with us since the beginning, you likely remember us launching the first Early Access version of the game with three environments: Pine Valley, Minus Two and Straw Bale. As our “evangelic” writing above suggests, these older environments didn’t take that long to make: they are smaller, more bland and have a less high production quality as some of our later environments. Originally we planned on launching with just Pine Valley and Minus Two, but days before the release realized this would not be sufficient. I had a mission: create a new environment in two days. More so, it had to be an open environment, in contrast with the others, and should run great on older setups. Straw Bale was born!
Ironically, this environment that only took us a few hours to make has become an iconic location for many Liftoff players. It has, in a sense, became the de_dust2 of Liftoff . Our player statistics show it’s the most played environment and that it has hundreds of community created race tracks. Pilots are even inspired to go out and fly in real fields full of straw bales, not just because it’s the most spectacular place to fly but because it reminds them of flying in Liftoff. (examples 1 , 2 , 3 , 4 ) That’s amazing!
Straw Bale 2.0
Being this popular, we felt Straw Bale deserved some much needed love and we started working on a revamped version. While we continue to work on new environments, we feel the new Straw Bale should look and feel like a completely new environment, without taking away the iconic nature of the original. The new Straw Bale has better looking textures, new straw bale assets, should look more natural with added foliage and wheat stalks dotting the ground… but most of all will be about 4 times bigger!
That’s right: it’s clear the community wants bigger environments and not only do we keep that in mind for future environments, we also hope to expand the older environments like Straw Bale to give you a lot more space to fly in. We are excited to see you explore these new spaces and create all kinds of crazy race tracks in them!
Revamping Straw Bale
When we started working on the revamp, it was clear to us that we had to be careful in what we did. We want the revamp to have the same goals and purpose as the original one:
- It should be a great environment for new pilots
- It should run smooth on older setups
- It should provide open spaces as a canvas for track builders
Most of all, we had to keep in mind that the hundreds of wonderful race tracks created by the community would still function in the revamp. As a result, all the existing objects in the environment need to have their exact same location and scale in order to not end up with tracks that float or intersect with the environment. While this is not 100% guaranteed to work flawlessly, we don’t expect to see a lot of issues with existing tracks.
I think we’ve succeeded in reaching these goals and we can’t wait to see it in action.
Your feedback and wishes to get bigger environments in Liftoff have been a driving force for this development. We would love to know what you think of this revamp! Would you like to see more Liftoff environments to be revamped or would you prefer us to focus on completely new environments instead? Let us know!