Development Update April 2021

A word from the Executive Producer of Nine to Five.

Hello, mercenaries!

Another month has passed surprisingly fast, and so we have another update to share. The main topic of the month is Core Gameplay! In the previous Development Update, we already touched upon this topic, but now I would like to uncover the actual changes that the core gameplay went through.

But first I would like to address one of the main discussion topics on Discord and social media: Soon™. You have been asking if Nine to Five is ever going to be released, and we hear you loud and clear. We purposely take our time with the development, but only because we want the game to be as good as possible and to undergo additional testing and polish. Those of you who have been with us for a long time can already see the improvements, but for those who are not, let me explain the phases Nine to Five’s core gameplay has gone through.

Testing Phases

The first online test of Nine to Five happened in February 2020 – the Friends and Family Test. The main focus there was to see if the game has any potential and is the 3v3v3 system going to be interesting to players. The results were promising — even though the game was rough it saw immediate interest from the testers.

With the Alpha Test in June 2020 and the subsequent closed tests, we experimented with the general balance and style of the gameplay. We tested different hypotheses and styles of combat, from very hardcore settings when just three bullets to any body part would kill all the way to bullet-spongy armors and long Time-to-Kill (TTK) – to see what will stick.

During the Beta Weekend, we continued tinkering with the TTK, this time with an open-for-all test to see how the game would appeal to a global audience. As a result, we collected tons of valuable feedback which allowed us to say “we have the numbers” and proceed to the most important phase for players: the polish!

Main areas of improvement

After we went through the Beta Weekend feedback and data, we recognized three main areas which needed improvement:

  • gunplay and gun feel
  • movement and navigation
  • visual style and quality

Then we broke these down even more, but in short: we have the systems in place, now we need to polish them to the level that they deserve!

Today I will focus solely on the gunplay and gun feel, but I guarantee that we will cover other topics with you very soon!

It all starts with the Big Bang!

The bread and the butter of every shooter game is the gun feel. Our goal has always been to deliver on the expectations and wishes that people have of the famous guns and ensure that our guns sound, look, and feel like you expect them to. For that, we had to change a lot of things.

First, we scrapped all the audio assets and started over. Now we use a combination of our own recordings and world-class audio banks to deliver the bang, the mechanical feel, and the subtle nuances of every single gun in different environments. For example, a sniper rifle shot sounds different on an open rooftop than in the middle of a busy street and even more different than inside an enclosed room. All these subtleties are considered to make sure every gun has its unique feel and vibe and is also easily distinctive at a distance, which leads us to the topic of occlusion and attenuations…

Where is it coming from?

“I have no idea where I was shot from!” – many of you have rightfully put that in your Beta Weekend feedback. Of course, the HUD and navigation were part of the problem, but mostly this feedback was attributed to footsteps and gunshots not having distinctive audio positioning. But don’t be afraid, this issue has been solved …until you tell us otherwise 😊

Our team put their heads together and built a brand-new audio occlusion system, based not solely on distances but on sound traversing through areas, crossing “gates” like doors or windows, and marking how occluded should the source be. One thing is a shot 15 meters away in an open field, another is shooting from a building with thick walls and one metal door in between, right? Our new system can easily recognize this and adjust not only the volume but also the audio style to match the environment better.

We have implemented the first version of the new occlusion system already and are happy with it in-house – now looking forward to hearing your thoughts and feedback!

Move it, move it!

Gun animations go hand in hand with the audio. Without proper synchronization, reaction on movement and other events, guns seem plastic, unrealistic, and unresponsive.

The animation team spent a lot of time working on the main weapons, bringing them up to the desired quality level. Parallax movements, reaction to sidestepping, different reload animations depending on whether the chamber was empty or if there was a bullet in there – all these nuances are now implemented giving the weapons their proper weight and liveliness.

But the animation is not the only part of the “gun movement”. Aim-Down-Sights (ADS) and recoil patterns are also very important elements that define how believable the weapon feels. We did hear words like “sluggishness” and “unpredictable” a lot during the latest tests. Hence this time we focused on making the transition between hip fire and ADS smoother and implemented more predictable recoil patterns to help you learn the weapon’s behavior.

Did I even hit that guy?

Since the Friends and Family Test, we have been battling with finding the right balance of complexity and predictability in the damage system. Not many people know that in our original design we had a system of killing blows, where you had to hit the heart or the head for an instant kill. Yes, it was as bizarre as it sounds, and it did not work that well.

In Beta Weekend, we received some complaints about weapon damage being random. For example, some players considered the Merlin assault rifle to be extremely effective, even OP, but for others it was pretty ‘meh’. Upon further investigation, we figured out that such mixed feedback was due to different combinations of effective range and bullet spread parameters for the weapon.

We started battling this by increasing the long-range damage, but it still wasn’t enough, some lower damaging SMGs were still ineffective at mid to short-range. This forced us to simplify the armor system and merge all armor parts into one. This makes it easier to understand what happens when the armor is broken and improves communication.

It might seem like an extreme measure, many people liked the old system a lot, especially the separate armor part for the helmet, but after few tests even I must admit – it does work better!

Where to now?

I could write about guns and gunplay for another couple of pages: about the material and texture improvements, which makes weapons look way better; about the higher saturation and better lighting in the levels, which improves the visibility and allows players to spot and follow enemies in any environment; shell casings flying from guns, better tracers, and muzzle flash particles. There is a ton of new things in the game now just waiting for you. 

I am sure you are now asking yourself “Will I be able to play the game soon™?” and we are happy to say YES! 😊 

In the upcoming weeks, we are planning to have a live stream where we will announce the next test and uncover everything that has been improved since the Beta Weekend. We cannot wait to hear your opinion and feedback on the changes.

Thank you for your time and support!

Looking forward to seeing you soon on the streets of Old New York!

Miloš Jeřábek
Executive Producer of Nine to Five