Under the hood

17
Feb 2023

Welcome back to the blog!

Greetings, fellow adventurers!

Today, I’m thrilled to dive deeper into our recent developments on Menyr and share with you what we’ve been up to behind the scenes. So, grab a seat, grab a drink, and let’s get started! In the spirit of keeping things concise, I’ll provide a TL;DR at the end of each section so you can get a quick overview of the main points.

Starting from Scratch: The Menyr Rebuilding Effort

The title may be attention-grabbing, but the story behind it is about the journey of building a better engine than we thought we could after a successful Kickstarter campaign. 

 

At the end of the campaign we had a functional build, referred to as the KS version, and had planned to continuously improve and enhance it leading up to the Beta, then Public release. However, the outpouring support from you all in the form of $600K was beyond our expectations. This influx of funds forced us to pause and think hard on what was now possible, compared to what wasn’t before. It could attract the necessary talent to elevate our engine to the next level, something that we never thought would be possible

 

The Menyr project has undergone a major transformation since its inception as a VR Unreal Engine 4 project. With the announcement of Unreal Engine 5, we made the decision to switch and bring our vision to life on this new platform.This meant transferring as much of our work as possible to the new engine, but the process caused a significant amount of technical issues. With the Kickstarter funding, we had the opportunity to start anew, hire seniors in key positions, clean up the build, and create a longer-lasting program (yes, we’re here for the long game). Our decision to crowdfund and head toward a community-driven development instead of going to editors has also greatly influenced the direction of the project. Over the last few months, we have often reflected on how much our vision for Menyr has evolved from the time we first announced it to the end of our Kickstarter campaign, which has helped us clarify what we wanted and could achieve on many fronts. 

 

When the campaign ended, we took some time to re-evaluate and redesign, even if only in theory, to see where it could lead us. If it seemed that starting from scratch was the best option, we would do so. If there were more drawbacks than benefits, we would return to iterating our KS version. Whatever the answer would be, we felt it was necessary to take this time to reflect, as this decision could only be made once and could change the project forever.

 

When the early redesign plan was laid out, it became evident that a complete restart was the best option. Of course, everything you’ve seen in the Kickstarter has been transferred. The changes are on the architectural level and adapted to the new engine. Our clear understanding of the desired outcome made the transition pretty seamless, even if it took some time. This provided us with a strong foundation, giving us ample room for growth and improvement. Starting from scratch also allowed us to make significant changes at the core level, which I will elaborate on right below. 

 

Up to the end of the KS version, our approach to Menyr was a complete Unreal Engine (UE) program. Everything was made in it, everything was rendered by it, it was 100% an UE product. This is cool, we love Unreal, but this also means that anything UE comes short of or doesn’t do, we can’t do. So we started thinking about a way to break free from these constraints, while keeping the amazing UE graphic capabilities, and we found it: we shifted to a data-based core approach.

 

Now that everything in Menyr is basically a data engine that communicates with satellite programs, we can have our independence, while UE is just our graphic output of choice. It means that in the future, the same map data could be read by UE for a photorealistic rendering, or a 2D web interface, with a totally different graphical output. Remember this is all theory at that point, but we believe it does give a lot of room for improvement and versatility to Menyr in the long term. 

This means you could possibly craft stories and maps on your mobile device during your commute, then explore the results in stunning 3D when you return to your computer. This also means Menyr could one day be cross-platform. The future of the project will also be greatly impacted by the fact that it will provide a deeper and more comprehensive modding experience for the community. With access to the data, the community will be able to create mods and third party applications that were previously unimaginable. This opens up endless possibilities far beyond what was available with our previous architecture.

 

Tldr: We used to rely entirely on Unreal Engine (UE) for our program, but we wanted to create a software that could include UE without being limited to it. We decided to redesign our architecture to a data-driven engine while keeping UE as our graphic output of choice, allowing for more versatility and flexibility in the future, both internally, or from the modding community. 

 

The Codex

Announced for the first time during our latest Kickstarter update, the Codex is hands down one of the most groundbreaking features of the new engine, and it’s easy to get excited about it.

I want to delve into what will be available initially and explore the potential doors it opens, so you can share in our excitement.

 

The first version of the Codex, that we’ll call “Codex Essentials’”, is planned to be in your hands by the end of the Beta and ready for Public release. Ideally, it could be available sooner, but it is expected to be closer to the end of the Beta. This comprehensive database, which can be thought of as a Wikipedia for your virtual world, will automatically generate articles for almost everything you create from your 3D world locations. This includes but is not limited to: NPCs, Characters, Monsters, Landmarks, it will include a combat/player/GM journal, a timeline of the events that happened during your play sessions, and more. These articles can be fully customized, with various information blocks like the article subject name, images, backstory, neighborhoods and population size for cities, stats blocks for NPCs, etc. 

 

This can also be cross-referenced,  meaning that if you have an article for the Thieves Guild of a particular town, you will find hyperlinks in the text to go from one to another easily right into the different articles. As mentioned in the first part of this post, this will not go directly through Unreal Engine, so modders will be able to pull this data easily and create different mods, using it a lot more freely. If you use a generator (dungeon, village, forest, etc), it will create a Codex Article that gives you the details of the generation, number of rooms, what type of biome, trees coverage %, population density, number of Landmarks in a given area, etc. 

 

Now, everything above is the part that will be done for sure, but it’s nothing compared to what will be POSSIBLE. Post launch, and if we have the resources, here are a few ideas we have that are now a possibility:

-Complex moderation rights on everything in the Codex: have players see a part of your entries but hide others, have some parts editable by a certain player, etc. You can also have automatic unreadable “fake” texts, due to the lack of the language knowledge of some players, while others could read it in plain english if they do.

-Create a world and its lore in a Codex filled with cities, NPCs, landmarks entries etc, then generate a 3D world from that Codex. You could make a procedural generation of that world, and reroll the outcome until you are satisfied. The world will always take your parameters into account so the generation is always controlled. People could share and sell their Codex on the Marketplace and the ones who buy them would generate unique visual outcomes (unless they use a seed number) from them.

-The other way around: people could create a visual world, and Menyr could generate a Codex from it, rerandomizing city names, NPCs backstories, Landmarks, quests, etc. This would involve having some procedural generated text content in Menyr or prefilled potential outcomes from the DM but it’s not impossible.

-At any given point during your prep, you could adjust your 3D world straight from the Codex. If you change the number of neighborhoods in a city, it would adapt the city size and layout in real time. Change the size of a dungeon, change the type of terrain, the loot in a chest, the type of monster in an encounter, anything that has a repercussion on the 3D world would mirror the action in the world.

-Edit the Codex from an API that would allow third party tools. This makes it possible to go even further than modding as it would allow external programs to make use and complement Menyr in various ways, with or without Unreal.

-The world being defined by the data first and interpreted by Unreal to get the 3D photorealistic view means we could develop a 2D rendering version. While this is not our intent to do that for the whole world, it would be great to make 2D world maps that represent exactly what your world is in 3D, and would adapt after any change in the 2D world map or the 3D version. 

-Access the Codex from a website, or even an app companion. Now that all PCs and NPCs data is stored in the Codex, this would allow for the GM to host a game casting Menyr on the TV, while all players around the table could roll and access their character sheet on their phone, allowing for hybrid VTT/IRL sessions. 

 

Tldr: The Codex is a groundbreaking feature of Menyr’s new engine, which can be thought of as a Wikipedia for virtual worlds. It automatically generates articles for almost everything, including 3D world locations, NPCs, characters, monsters, and landmarks. It includes a combat/player/GM journal, a timeline of events, and more. The articles can be fully customized and cross-referenced. The Codex will be available in a version called “Codex Essentials” by the end of the Beta and for public release. Menyr plans to offer several possibilities post-launch, such as complex moderation rights, creating procedural worlds from a Codex, creating a procedural Codex from a 3D world, develop a 2D rendering version of the world map, or an accessible Codex from a website or even an app companion, allowing for hybrid VTT/IRL sessions.

 

I hope this gives more context on why the last months have been pretty dry in terms of new visual content. Right now we are all very happy with the design and the possibilities the new engine will have to offer, and we hope you do too. We keep our eyes on target, and while we are thinking of the far future, we know releasing a stable and powerful beta is our N°1 priority.

 

Hope you liked the insight and are as excited as we are about the future! Until next time,

Dash