Back To Top

Back To Top

Journal #11 – Funding, Fashion & “Failing Fast” 6 February 2024

Each month we take a moment to talk with you about the development process and progress from the past month, while also highlighting contributions from the Ahoy community.

Last month, we took a look back over the last year and spoke on some of the successes and challenges of 2023. This month we’ll take a look at the path ahead, some of the work that has been happening to move us towards those goals, and some nice images!

An Update On Funding

We’re going to start this month’s journal off with a bit of a downer. We promise things get a bit more positive later on, but it’s a necessary part of these updates to keep you informed of project changes.

Last month we mentioned we would have more news regarding a potential source of funding. It’s with an extremely heavy heart that we must share we were unsuccessful in securing this support. Frustratingly, it means we’re unable to share details about who we were in talks with, why it fell through, or what work it would have allowed.

This particular failed attempt for funding was particularly devastating for the team because of the nature of the collaboration it would have enabled, and the way it would have supported our efforts to maintain historical accuracy throughout the Ahoy experience due to the heritage nature of the partnership.

What does this mean for the project? Well, largely it means we’ve been unable to secure additional development support in the areas we were hoping. We had budgeted for additional support across the board, which would have really pushed the project forward a lot faster in areas of programming, animation, character art, etc.

It would also have ensured those on the team that have been working on Ahoy full-time could remain doing so, without the need to find sources of personal finances to keep things afloat at home. This means that we might see a short-term lull in activity from some members of the team as we find outside opportunities to cover our own living expenses. We’re sure the community will rally around the team during this time, but we ask that you have even more patience with us over the next few months.

There are potential opportunities to collaborate with this partner in the future, we still love what they are about and what a collaboration with them might mean for Ahoy. We’re hopeful that through further development, the value of what we’re building here becomes even more evident to third parties. If any news changes on this front, we’ll be sure to let you know.

One other aspect of this is that the original reason for the announcement video we had discussed previously is no longer valid. It was a “Year in Review” video which was then going to announce the partnership and it’s impact on the next year of the project. As this is no longer possible, we have decided to cancel plans for this particular video to better utilise that developer time for the project itself.

Okay, unfortunate depressing negative stuff out of the way, let’s push forward!

Failing Fast”

Okay, okay, “failing fast” still sounds negative, but hear us out! This is a popular philosophy in systems design or software development. Essentially it means to try things quickly, fail quickly, and try things again. This creates a more robust path forward where you can be certain that certain causes for failure won’t catch you out after you’ve spent loads of time polishing the failure in the first place.

Ahoy used to operate this way right back at the start. The very first videos of sailing tests, naval guns, etc. were all very quick, ‘dirty’ prototypes which had no real structure or polish to them other than what they were built to experiment with. Over the years, Ahoy has progressed a lot in areas of art and design, but due to the complexity of trying to prototype with these highly complex systems, gameplay progress has fundamentally been lagging behind the rest of the project.

Moving forward, we’re going to be returning to this ‘fail fast’ mentality and will be experimenting much more rapidly with gameplay implementations. We mention this now, because what you may see going forward will look less finished than videos or screenshots you might have seen in the past. That’s because in order to avoid the distraction of all the bells and whistles, we’re stripping things right back to their fundamental components to ensure we can iterate quickly.

Buoyancy Implementation

Returning to fundamentals, then. Buoyancy is probably one of the more important mechanics required for Ahoy and while we’ve explored this in the past, it has always been fairly rudimentary. As work on Sea Trials progresses, buoyancy will really be at the heart of much of what we do. This means going back to our older implementations and completely reworking them for more stable, consistent results as well as ensuring they work in multiplayer correctly.

Buoyancy is calculated using a ‘proxy’ mesh. This reduces the overall complexity of the physics calculation dramatically, and finds the buoyant properties of each point on the provided mesh, which can then be applied to the visible representation of the ship.

In addition to a proxy hull mesh, we also provide an overall total mass for the ship in kilograms. This mass represents the entire ship’s weight, including it’s cargo, personnel and armament. Due to the nature of artwork created for video games, the meshes we include for these things don’t really provide a good foundation to calculate their weights accurately, so we actually assign weight to things separately in order to gain a better representation of weight distribution.

One way of calculating weight distribution is to collect all weights based on their location on the buoyant object. In the case of Speedy, this means splitting the ship into 6 segments, each of which is given it’s own total mass and is then used to influence the centre of mass dynamically.

This visualisation is of course only for the purposes of development. In reality, the mass of each segment would be calculated from a number of possible factors, such as water ingress, cargo weight and distribution, hull damage, etc.

This same approach can be used for all buoyant objects, but it is particularly beneficial for ships because it allows player actions, such as the amount and distribution of cargo, to influence the sailing properties of their ship. The number of segments is also arbitrary, and in fact we could create a much more granular simulation of weight distribution at a later date. This could be achieved through a “voxelization” of the same concept, where each segment covers a much smaller area of the ship’s volume, thereby providing a far greater accuracy.

This is a very brief overview of the buoyancy implementation as it currently stands. We still have a lot of work to do to ensure the keel and rudder are accurately influencing friction forces within the water, and of course we’re missing much of what adds weight and rotational complexity to these ships, such as masts, yards, sailcloth and the tons of rope in between.

Characters & Clothing

A while back we mentioned we’re moving over to the Metahuman framework for our characters. There are huge productivity benefits to doing this, as so many of the challenges of creating realistic digital humans has been solved for us. One limitation of the Metahuman framework, however, is that it doesn’t support dynamic body or face changes out of the box.

For Ahoy, character variety is super important. Body shape is one of the more obvious changes. We really wanted to represent various body shapes for players and NPCs around the world to add more opportunities for variety, story telling and accurately representing historical figures.

Below you can see a somewhat surrealist example of the body shape changes that are now possible, along with an example of facial/body animation applied from the Metahuman framework:

What you’re seeing here is VERY unfinished. It’s worth ignoring most of the skin textures, especially the body hair which appears to have formed lines around the shoulders. Seeing things half-broken is the only downside to sharing less polished behind the scenes videos 😉

A lot of the work going forward on Characters will be focused on bringing our own customisations and changes to the Metahuman framework, which will enable us to benefit from the underlying work done by Epic Games / Unreal Engine, but also maintain a sense of unique identity and style for our characters so that they don’t feel like every other project using Metahuman today and in the future.

As we prepare to see characters moving around on ships, it’s important we take some of our clothing a step further and prepare them for in-engine use. Much of the pipeline for clothing so far has been going from high polygon sculpts or Marvelous Designer simulations, and creating lower polygon, game-ready versions of these clothing pieces. Now, as we start to get them prepared for our characters, you can very quickly see how dynamic they will feel when influenced by wind and animation.

There is still plenty of work to do here. Extreme character movements really break apart the cloth simulation, and of course there are some minor clipping issues seen in the video above as well. These things are not as high-priority right now, as we’re really just looking to get to a first viable implementation as soon as possible, but once we see the clothing in use we can tweak values until things stop breaking from wind or character movement.

Answering Your Questions

The latter half of this Journal will answer questions you submitted as part of our planned Year In Review video. We’re going to start making this a regular occurrence of these Journals, and so if you have more questions to ask the team, please submit them here.

On Ship Customisation:
– Respondent, Community Questionnaire 2023.
Yes! Ship customisation will be a big part of a captain's ability to set themselves apart from the rest. Ships have a number of methods of customisation.

The most obvious would be the chosen paint scheme (colour choice for segments of the hull, decorative carvings, gunport lids, interior walls, masts and yards, etc.), being able to swap your figurehead and decorative carvings for another design, choosing the name of your ship, which is visible on the stern, through other player's spyglasses and within the ship's books.

Additionally, at least in the eventual design, we're planning to let officers customise their own cabins. This means when you come aboard a ship, your own possessions and particulars will be visible in and around your cabin in the way you've chosen. This layout will be decided per ship type. Captains would have the same ability for their cabin and quarters as well. When an officer leaves a ship, it would revert to the layout chosen by the captain (owner) of the ship.
On Ahistorical Content:
– Respondents, Community Questionnaire 2023.
The sentiment from the community has definitely been to maintain historical accuracy however possible, and this is a feeling we share wholeheartedly. We have no current plans to break away from this way of working, as there is so much historically authentic content to include before we'd ever feel like we've run out of things to add.

That being said, we've always held the belief that if ahistorical content is added (whether that's painted sails, unusual figureheads, clothing, etc.) we would always provide each player the option to hide this ahistorical content in the settings. There will also be tools within the game to determine the kinds of players you're grouping up with as well.

Those with a particular interest in roleplaying and historical impressions will be able to find similarly minded people based on both how players have marked their own interests, but also how other players have rated each other. Players who mark themselves as a role-player but have been warned by other players for breaking it will end up with another identifier so that you can be more selective on who you invite along with you.
On Game Pacing / End-game Content:
– Respondent, Community Questionnaire 2023.
We completely agree. The common theme in games these days seems to be about getting to the destination, rather than the journey. That concept starkly contrasts with the Ahoy idea, as the essence of the game revolves around the adventure rather than reaching a specific endpoint.

The idea with Ahoy isn't to simply rush through the fleet of available ship types, or to immediately aim for the largest ship possible. Ships in Ahoy aren't really inherently better than each other, but rather better at different things. The intention is that players will return to smaller ships, perhaps due to their available crew or their intended voyage, throughout their time in the game.

While certain aspects of the game will be available later in your journey, we hope this just adds more opportunity, rather than pigeonholing those 'late-game' players into a single type of experience.
On the Ahoy fleet:
– Respondents, Community Questionnaire 2023.
At this time, we're strongly focused on the smaller ships of the Ahoy fleet. You can take a look at the Ship List document which outlines the ships in the game and those we're considering around them. Please remember this document is evolving with production and the exact candidates might be changed later.

We don't have any current plans to include ships larger than Phoebus / HMS Pandora at this time. Additionally, we're actively limiting the candidates to within the 1770 - 1785 year range to ensure a more accurate depiction of ship technology during this time.
On Ahoy’s Sailing Experience:
– Respondents, Community Questionnaire 2023.
Sailing is actually the primary focus of development at this time, and combat is definitely taking a back seat. Of course this will not always be the case, but I think it's important to mention that the Ahoy sailing experience needs to be really incredible before we'd consider adding combat into the mix.

As for why the two are combined within the Sailing & Combat prototype (now named "Sea Trials")... Well, they're not intrinsically linked, it's just that during the development of the Sea Trials prototype, we need to explore both aspects of the gameplay and how they do eventually link together.

It is our current plan to have a bit of both ready before people get their hands on it, but this might change in the future if we feel getting feedback on sailing alone would be a useful stage in the testing process.
On Player Customisation:
– Respondents, Community Questionnaire 2023.
Loads of character customisation questions!

In terms of diversity of choice, we're really keen to allow players to customise as much as possible. Skin tone, hairstyles, body shape, complexion, eye colour, and hair colour will all be included.

In terms of clothing choice, we plan to provide accurate uniform for all of the major nations. Specifically focusing on navy uniforms at first, but eventually we'd love to see accurate uniforms for marines, stationed forces in the ports, and government officials.

Clothing will have customisation within each item as well. We're designing every piece separately, so the intention is you can layer and combine clothing items together to create your own uniform or social outfits. Dyeing clothing parts will require a little bit of in-game currency to purchase the pigments or have it dyed for you. We'll only allow dye colours that feel appropriate within the world we're building.

As for paid cosmetics, it might be an area we explore some time in the future, but we'll always provide the core, expected uniforms and civilian clothing within the game itself. It's important to us that "dressing accurately" isn't behind a paywall, and largely we'll be limiting paid cosmetics to accessories that you can add on top of outfits for a little extra 18th century pizzazz (think shoe buckles, super fancy wigs, etc.).
On Multiplayer Etiquette and Immersion:
– Respondents, Community Questionnaire 2023.
Absolutely. Blocking voice and text communication from individual players will of course be possible.

As for player movement, this is something much harder to restrict, but we hope the way we implement movement within the game creates a base level of immersive performance anyway. Jumping, for example, isn't really something that is necessary in a game like Ahoy and is often the first thing used to act 'unusually'.

While we're not 100% sure whether jumping will be completely missing from the Ahoy experience, you'll certainly be unable to do this within the ship interior or the interior of buildings. Additionally, certain actions that, if repeated, can look strange/immersion-breaking will be limited as well. We can even handle this on a per-player basis if desired. For example, restricting the frequency of crouching animations (while out of combat) to remove the notorious "Teabagging Effect".
On Project Scale & Achievability:
– Respondents, Community Questionnaire 2023.
There is no denying that Ahoy is a huge project. We're a small but passionate team, and Ahoy is the game we want to play. The project was born out of that "fine, I'll do it myself" attitude, and while we will never pretend we have all the answers today, we're confident that with the right community support and with sensible milestones as we've laid out ahead of us, the vision is achievable.

It's true in some sense that there is a risk we'll never reach the full vision for Ahoy. It might be that Beat to Quarters (previously named "Arena"), will be as far as we can get. We have to be realistic about these things and ultimately the deciding factor around the continued progression of development is whether there is an audience that wants to see it continue.

Sea Trials, later Beat to Quarters, will be our first major release. Providing that experience will be a challenge in itself, but should the release go well and prove to be a success, we'll be sure to reinvest into Ahoy and ensure the continuation of the project beyond it's initial "Arena" state.

As for optimisation, that's included in the whole process of this development plan. We optimise as we go, but we'll also need to make time for optimisation later as well. Sea Trials will likely have the longest period of optimisation and refactoring of code as we find our feet and see how players experience the project for the first time.
On Assisting The Project:
– Respondent, Community Questionnaire 2023.
The single biggest way you can support Ahoy is to wishlist it on Steam. Wishlist numbers genuinely help when talking to third parties in relating to funding and collaboration.

Secondly, you could continue supporting us via Ko-fi or Patreon. This is not for everyone, and certainly is a financial risk for those contributing this way, however it goes a long way towards supporting development because it helps us cover our software and operating costs, as well as potentially working with other artists and developers to assist the project directly.

Thirdly, if you would like to get directly involved with development and you have examples of your past work in 3D modelling, character animation, gameplay programming, or another area of game development, please reach out to us via email with examples of your work and a rough idea about how you'd like to get involved.

Finally, we're still considering setting up a Community Team to support the running of the Ahoy Discord, Social Media pages, and potentially even this Journal in future. If you'd like to apply (and haven't already), please do so here.

Otherwise, please continue to engage with our social media pages, chat on Discord, ask us questions and leave feedback on our work. Your involvement in the community provides an incredible sense of positive motivation for the team, especially during harder times of the project.

As mentioned above, if you have more questions for the team and would like them answers next month, please submit your questions below.

Submit your questions:

Until next time, good day!

Sincerely your most humble servant,

Tyler – Project Lead

Join The Discussion!

Our Journal updates are often discussed at length in the official Ahoy Discord server. Whether you have questions about the topics covered in this update, or you would like to leave your own feedback or suggestions, please join our Discord server to discuss!

Join the Discord