DevLog 100: Celebrating 100 DevLogs, Alpha 25 Deployed and Interview with Mitchell

DevLog 100: Celebrating 100 DevLogs, Alpha 25 Deployed and Interview with Mitchell
January 30, 2018 Airport CEO

Greetings, airport CEO, and welcome to the one hundredth development blog post! This is a milestone we’d never really thought we’d meet once we wrote the first devlog and something we will celebrate in this post with pomp and circumstance. On top of everything else we have to cover including the progress made this past two weeks we will also take a look back at a few past posts and review their contents in relation to where Airport CEO is at now. As an added bonus we will also take a deep dive into the mind of Mitchell Jetten, our talented graphics artist, and survey him on his craft, how he became an airport CEO and what the challenges of his artistry include. As you can see, we have a lot to go over so fold up your tray, put down your armrests and raise up your seat back up because we’re taking off.


The Two Last Weeks

Since the 100th devlog originally was intended to air last week, but wasn’t due to time constraints, we consequently have two weeks of development to cover! In the last devlog, issue 99, we discussed the deployment of Alpha 24.3 on the experimental branch, performance improvement and the upcoming structure pack. As you know and as we’ll discuss further in the section below, Alpha 25 has been deployed on the experimental branch and contains a lot of changes. As for the structure pack introduced as of Alpha 24.4, if you haven’t seen them already, they included a complete graphics overhaul to most building structures and implemented an additional large air traffic control tower.

DAYLIGHT IMAGE OF THE NEW STRUCTURES

NIGHT IMAGE OF THE NEW STRUCTURES

Speaking of new art, since the last deployment the remaining part of the conveyor belt system, i.e. the conveyor belt system scanners, received a much needed overhaul as well (but if you want to see those you need to head in-game if you haven’t already)! Since the default version and experimental version currently were, as a result of little over a month’s worth of development, very different our focus for these two past weeks has been to stabilize the experimental branch for default deployment. That includes a lot of bug fixing on a numerous different fronts, both in regards to older bugs that have been with us since the start but also addressing new bugs which have been introduced as a result of the drastically changing code base. With the biggest difference of Alpha 24 and Alpha 25 being the new contract system, vastly improved performance (specifically over long periods of running game time) and a properly scaling user interface, we have also put some additional effort into finalizing the graphics overhaul. There are now only a handful of objects that haven’t been touched by Mitchell and comparing the frst release version of Airport CEO (Alpha 0.20.7) to the current version (Alpha 25.0-0) does show what a difference a professional touch on the graphics has made. Sadly, the upcoming infrastructure move has consume a lot of time the past two weeks in regards to configuring the new environment and rehearsing the move of our web services but once that’s completed (on Thursday, more on that later) we will hopefully become less dependent and more agile, free from the old closet server.

Since we have so much to dig into in this development blog we will not go further into the work that we did these past two weeks, but for a more complete picture you can always check out the progression and discussion in the official forum thread or, for a more redacted version, check out this summarized topic provided by a lovely moderator.


Alpha 25 Deployed

Alpha 25 has been deployed on the default branch and marks yet another major overhaul to the core game functionality and code base of Airport CEO. When this major update was deployed on the experimental branch it was accompanied by a Forum post depicting its major changes and since it’s now been deployed on the default branch we want to make sure that everyone gets hold of those changes which is why the content of that post will be included below. If you’re an airport CEO living on the experimental edge you already know all of this and can without fear scroll down to the next chapter.

New Flight Contract System

We can finally present the first version of the new airline contract system! The system is intended to improve the scheduling process and shift focus from tedious signing of new contracts to instead manage relationship with airlines.

Due to many changes under the hood your old contracts will be removed and all, except your active flights will be cancelled. This is a technically motivated and required effort to avoid breaking any ongoing turnarounds and keep old save integrity. These flights will however lose all connections to its airline and route which means that you will be presented with question marks (“?”) or missing data for these flights when viewed in the UI. Please ignore this as any new flights will have the correct data. Simply let the old flights run through and your save should be fine (unfortunately these old flights will give you $0 income, it is not a bug just an effect of these changes).

Contract Flow

You will now sign a master contract with an airline instead, which will (at least for now) not expire. The airline will then offer you flights (both single and reoccurring) depending on their current satisfaction of your airport. If you manage to get the flight away on time, the airline satisfaction will increase and vice versa if a flight is too delayed (you have a grace period of 1 hour, any more and your rating will be negatively impacted). More triggers for satisfaction will be added later on as the system be refined during its time on the experimental branch, based on your input.

Auto Scheduler

For the really laid back CEOs we have now implemented an auto scheduling system which will schedule any new flights completely automatic at the next available slot. Just make sure you have both a COO and a CIO at your board to enable the toggle in the flight planner.

The auto scheduling system depends on an artificial intelligence bot named Asio and is constructed with a neural network utilizing machine learning and deep web analytics to plan your flights as best as they can be planned. Naaaaaah, just kidding, it’s just a set of if rules…

Aircraft Ratio Slider

You will now be able to set the ratio of new flights to better control the offered flights suited for your airport layout. You will be able to modify the ratio of small, medium and large aircraft sizes (not that large flights do not exist yet, but this is to prepare for future implementations). For example, if you set the slider to 60% small and 40% medium, airlines will offer you randomized flights with sizes corresponding to these ratios.

Individual Flight Ratings

Each flight now has a rating from one to five which is represented as stars similar to the contract system. Higher rated flights will earn you more money and for now you can get up to 3-star flights should all requirements be met. The airline will look at your facilities and offer flights rated at that level. If you click on the large star in the flight planner you can find out what you need to construct or offer to get higher rated flights. This feature is still experimental and we plan to add more requirements later when we have gathered some initial feedback from you all.

That’s it for the airline contract system, there are a few more sliders and control options implemented into the flight planner as of Alpha 25.0, however we have one more important things to mention.

Massive Memory Leak Patched

Several of you have noticed that over time, when running an empty airport or an airport with a consistent passenger flow, the game has over time become sluggish and unplayable. We have now found, and patched, that issue which was related to an ancient code segment located in the security checkpoint class controlling the lights and effects (not kidding… in big projects like this code quickly becomes legacy). This issue is not immediately related to the number of passengers in your airport, for example running an airport with a few thousand passengers will still strain your CPU and is something we’re working on in another ticket, but at least the game will now stop killing your computer over time for no reason.

Speaking of performance, there’s now also a passenger ratio per flight slider accessible via the game panel (in game menu). Want to run more flights with less passengers? Use the slider to get the desired effect.

There are a lot more fixes going into Alpha 25, so do consider checking out the full patch notes here (scroll to bottom). Since the difference between Alpha 24 and Alpha 25 is so large we have already planned at least one hot fixes for the default branch during tomorrow, so do expect these and per usual we will supply you with patch notes.


Celebrating 100 DevLogs

With this 100th devlog edition celebration, it is only fitting that we take a quick peek back in time to look at what we are actually celebrating. The purpose of the devlog is really to document the development process for you, and us, to see and look back at. It’s an integral part in what we believe defines a transparent development process so that you can see in what way this early access title is evolving. And since we now have this, almost database, of 100 devlogs we thought we could check out the first, 25th, 50th and 75th edition and compare them to our current development state. Out initial thought when looking through them is that… well, we’ve really matured as game developers and drivers of this large project, and with us Airport CEO has indeed also matured.

The first devlog really looks like nothing we’ve posted since, it is basically a proclamation of the devlogs existence and the game itself. Reading the first line, “So we are going to make the best airport tycoon game ever!”, which was written in September 2015, really says it all. This vision, if you want to call it that, was our ultimate goal and it is something we are still working towards. We also had a Kickstarter crowdfunding plan in place that we in the later devlogs chose not to act upon, a decision we still feel very satisfied with all things considered.

The 25th devlog , posted in June 2016 talks about our milestone of producing and releasing the very first video featuring actual game play footage. If you watch the video (embedded below) you will see that a lot has changed since then and let’s just say we are glad they did. Back then we didn’t even have a construction system and many things were still very rough the edges.

The 50th devlog features a lot of eye candy and we talked about getting rid of physics in the build system which was extremely inefficient back then. We are not ashamed of admitting that we did some things “wrong” the first time around implementing various systems and this was not the first or last time we found a better way of doing a certain aspect in the game. Just like we do right now, where we are planning a large change in the path finding system, all because we believe we can do it better. We are not afraid to try new things to improve the game and this is really what keeps us going, even if it is a bit more trickier now when it is released.

We also announced a new flight planning system, which is now the backbone of the particular upgrade we now introduce in Alpha 25. We also showed some nice .gifs and talked a little bit about the future and our decision not to go ahead with a crowdfunding campaign and instead go directly for early access alpha release.

The 75th devlog featured a tone change. We were now preparing to setup the release pipeline to Steam and we were every so getting closer to D-day. By then we had started to work in a more structure way with actual tickets and with dedicated bug reporting and testing. All in all to prepare for the release, extremely busy and busy enough not to write lengthy devlogs… and the rest is history as they say.

Stay tuned for development blog 200 where we will indulge ourselves in this, the 125th, 15oth and 175th devlog. Can’t wait!


Interview with Mitchell Jetten, Airport CEO Graphics Artist

A proper way to celebrate the 100th devlog is to do something a little extra, something we haven’t done before. That something is to take a closer look at one of the core game development processes of Airport CEO: Graphics and art development! Initially we the developers, Fredrik and Olof, did all of the art ourselves but were very aware that it was simply not our strong suit. This is why one of the major promises and milestones on the new Airport CEO road map was to overhaul the game’s current graphics and overall look. Our wonderful community, which has not only produced fantastic businesses and airlines for the game as well as an astounding ACEO knowledge foundation,  also gifted us with a fantastic graphics artist. His name is Mitchell Jetten, going by the nickname Jettuh, and while we by now know him well we thought that it is really time for you to get to know him too! We “sat down” (chatted) with Mitchell in between our mutually busy schedules and sourced his mind on what its like to be a graphics artist and especially what its like to work on ACEO.

Hey Mitchell! To kick things off we thought we’d interest the audience in hearing you talk a little bit about yourself.

Hi everyone, my name is Mitchell and I create some, well most, of the assets and graphics in Airport CEO. Unlike the rest of the development team, I don’t work full time on the game and I don’t live in Sweden. You’ll find me in The Netherlands where I work with huge industrial sized 3D printers, ranging from printing plastics to porcelain and gold. But during lunch and after work you’ll see me creating 3D models for ACEO, and yes, you read that right, 3D models.

So what brought you to start creating 3D objects and assets? What was your path into the industry?

Back in 2009 I started with 3D printing as a hobby, I’m a big fan of trains and the train industry and noticed that there is a big group of people looking for certain trains that weren’t available in their preferred scale. I like trains, I like 3D printing and I like to create 3D designs, and that’s how the math worked out. In 2011 it went from the hobby “3D printing trains” to working at the company that was actually 3D printing those trains for my customers.

How did you find out about Airport CEO?

I found out about Airport CEO by scrolling through the coming soon list on Steam Early Access. After I found ACEO, I kept a close eye on the devlogs to see how the team was progressing!

Your way onto the Airport CEO team was a bit unconventional… can you tell us a little bit about how you got noticed by the devs?

So the game finally launches, I’m playing, having a lot of fun and just like everyone I have ideas on what I would love to see in ACEO the future. I thought it would be a good opportunity to improve my 3D skills by creating renders of the ideas I had and apparently people loved the renders that I posted on the ACEO forums and Reddit, enough that they asked me to reach out to the developers and see if I could give them a hand.

This push back truck was one of those renders and an updated version is now in-game!

MITCHELL’S OWN EARLY RENDITION OF A CONCEPT VEHICLE IN GAME

At first I was a bit hesitant, I’m not a Game Developer and have zero experience with game development. While 3D design for 3D printing does overlap a bit with creating assets for games there are many large differences. However, I ended up sending a message to the developers and one thing lead to another.

THE SERVICE TRUCK VEHICLE CREATION PROCESS

What are some of the biggest challenges when it comes to creating art for Airport CEO?

The biggest challenge so far centers around that the most basic objects are often the hardest ones to recreate in a 2D, top-down perspective. A quick example is this vending machine, when you see it in 3D it all makes sense.

VENDING MACHINE CONCEPT

But without context and not knowing that it is a vending machine, the vending machine in the middle might not give it away. So I’ve been trying various things, like in regards to the vending machine on the right where the front is slightly tapered so you can see the front, not realistic in 3D, but in 2D you finally see what the “square” is really supposed to be.

What do you think the future of the graphics and art of Airport CEO holds?

I think the future of ACEO and its graphics are bright. In the last couple of months we’ve already made huge progress in updating the legacy objects to the new graphic style and we will continue implementing more (yes, the belt loader too!). Now that I have pretty much completed the artwork for the improved legacy objects (there are a few minor details left) we can start working on creating new and exciting things. In the future we will be adding wide body aircraft and to get the turnaround process for wide body aircraft to work properly, we also need to make the rest of the airport more efficient by implementing items such as automated check in services and a more efficient way of getting from and to the airport.

And as I’ve mentioned before, the 2D sprites in-game are based on real 3D models so wouldn’t it be cool to… well.

SELF CHECK-IN SERVICE MACHINE CONCEPT

What are your plans for the future as a professional artist, are you looking to continue your now started game artist path?

I’ll keep working on ACEO for as long as possible! Turning into a professional game artist would be great and who knows, maybe one day!

 

Thank you Mitchell. It has indeed been a steep learning experience, figuring out how to best represent certain objects created in 3D in a 2D top-down (well, maybe you can call Airport CEO a 2.1D game) environment. Down below we have included a collage of the many concept pictures we have been working with throughout the past months. This really a window into the Airport CEO art development process and this image is in no way an exact representation of planned features and implementations, it is simply an overview of the collaborative and creative process. It might seem strange that we are working in three dimensions when we only need 2, but this is simply an easier and more agile way to construct the objects we need while also keeping the door open for future options in regards to dimensions.

AN OVERVIEW OF THE ART AND GRAPHICS THAT IS CRAFTED FOR AIRPORT CEO


Upcoming Forum and Website Service Window

Lastly, we want to take a few seconds of your time to mention the upcoming infrastructure changes which we’ve earlier discussed. On Thursday 09:00 UTC+1 the Forum and Airport CEO website will be brought offline as a result of a migration process. We are decommissioning the closet server and are replacing it with a VPS that should bring better stability and better performance to the web based services. We will notify you of the process via Twitter but the migration can take several hours and once the Forum and website is online again there might be several interruptions to its service as we test and work out any potential issues. We kindly ask you to bare with us throughout this improvement process!


The Week Ahead

So with the 100th devlog out of our way and with the deployment of Alpha 25 we will primarily focus our efforts on stabilization. Since the default branch bares many more airport CEOs than the experimental branch it is very likely that there might be critical issue that will be have to be fixed immediately with such a large change coming up, which is why you can as mentioned expect hot fixes to reach the default branch during the next days. Of course, a huge chunk of time will also be sunk into the mentioned hosting migration but once that is complete we will be far better off from an infrastructure perspective as it is a good long-term investment meaning that we’ll have less maintenance work and less interruptions. However, time will also be devoted to looking into crafting new implementations as Fredrik has started the process of implemented the new aircraft, as voted on by the community. First up is the Beechcraft Baron G58 and next in line is the Boeing 757.

Once the default branch is stabilized enough for us to start focusing on the new round of experimental deployments we will revert to primarily focusing on the new “quality era” of Airport CEO, including the UI sprint and the improved performance sprint. We realize that a lot of time has now been spent on the addition of new stuff and new features and now we really want to take some time to improve the playing experience, which means a better UI, better performance and once and for all getting rid of pesky and annoying turnaround bugs, stuck vehicles and similar… but more on this in the next development blog.

One last thing, we’ve now received the prizes for the winners of the design contest. They will begin shipping during next month and once

If you’re still with us it means that you’ve likely read the other, or parts of the other, 99 devlogs and for that we’d like to thank you. These weekly updates are nothing without the reader and writing devlogs to the void is something that sounds equally boring to doing sysadmin work. So here’s to the both of us for writing, and reading, 100 Airport CEO devlogs and let’s hope that there’s another 100 on the horizon. Thank you again and see you throughout the week. Fly safe!