March 2019 Development Roadmap
Beacon updates have been frequent, but minor. I’ve been trying to do no more than one per week of bug squishing. Version 1.1.4 seems to be a pretty solid release, so it’s time to start looking forward.
The current focus is on helping users help themselves. I have been working on writing lots of help articles for a pretty comprehensive knowledge base on the website. This process takes time, no only because of the content itself, but the screenshots and other artwork needed. Plus, it’s not really my favorite thing to do. I’d rather be writing the code.
After the new support content launches, that will become the basis for another couple of tutorial videos. I said in my first (and only, so far) video that I would produce more, and I’m going to stick to that.
More Distant Future
The next significant update for Beacon will be 1.2. I’m calling this one the speed update because on top of the planned new features, I’ll be updating lots of backend code. Beacon will begin to use compressed JSON files coupled with a new JSON generator. As a result, instead of taking a couple seconds to save a large file, Beacon will be able to save in a fraction of a second.
For example, my personal cluster file is around 10MB on disk and takes roughly 6 seconds to save to the cloud. Under Beacon 1.2, I’ve been able to get the file size down to about 400KB and saving near instantly.
But don’t worry, I know some users keep their files in a version control system, so the human-readable version will still be available with the new speed improvements. Just not the size improvements.
On the less technical side of things, I plan to introduce new editors for harvest rates and breeding. I will likely pick a third editor to include as well, though I may stay at two because the breeding editor will be rather substantial.
A Personal Note
Support for Beacon recently has been fantastic. Sales of Omni have been better than I hoped and it has really helped keep my focus on delivering an even better app. It opens doors, such as the performance improvements because I can afford to buy the plugin necessary to handle the JSON faster. Interest in Beacon has jumped since launching Omni, which is an interesting phenomenon I didn’t expect.
So thank you. You guys are awesome.
The Future of Beacon
The title sounds ominous doesn't it? No, Beacon is not going anywhere. But some changes need to be made and I wanted to explain what Beacon's future holds before I start committing changes to the public GitHub repository.
I'll get straight to the point. Costs are piling up and I need a way for Beacon to recover some of those costs.
To that end, starting with Beacon v1.1 I will be introducing something I'm currently calling Beacon Omni. I'm not a huge fan of the codename though, so it may change before release. To be 100% clear, current features in the 1.0 release of Beacon will not go away or become paid features. Loot drop editing, which is Beacon's bread-and-butter, will remain free. Deployments, presets, community document sharing, and every other feature you currently enjoy will remain free. Beacon will also remain exactly as open source as it is today.
Omni will unlock the new configuration types being added to Beacon. All users will be able to use all config types, but Beacon will not generate config lines for configuration types that are locked.
I have not settled on price or model at this time, though I'm pretty confident I'm going to use a traditional "pay once" model.
What's New in Beacon Beta 26
Everything. Everything is new. Beta 26 should be one of the final betas, now that Beacon is really ready to show off.
Beacon can now directly control your PC, Xbox, and PS4 Nitrado servers! This makes updating your server a breeze, as Beacon can update the ini files and general settings automatically. It'll even restart the server for you!
Tuned Loot Quality
Beacon uses a new formula to calculate loot quality. If you've complained about loot being low quality before, this is the build for you.
Improved Document Management
You can now save and edit Beacon documents directly within Beacon's cloud. Or you can keep storing your Beacon documents on your computer. Your choice.
Got questions? The sidebar on the right shows help based on whatever you're looking at.
More Config Types
Beacon can now edit both your server's difficulty and loot quality scaling. These are just the beginning too. Expect more config types coming after the full release.
A lot of effort has been spent to reduce the number of dialogs "modal" dialogs - those that block your use of the program until you're finished with them. Instead, a new notifications drawer will alert you of problems so you can deal with them on your terms. Plus, the notifications drawer can receive messages from the Beacon server, alerting you to things like engram updates and important information.
Did you know Beacon files have an encrypted section that only decrypt on the computer which created them? It stores things like Nitrado access tokens and FTP passwords. Well Beacon also allows you to create an account to sign in with a username and password, which allows you to decrypt those documents on any computer you've signed into. You can also access any of your cloud documents this way.
Presets and Engrams Take Center Stage
No more hiding in a separate "Library" window, presets and engrams are found at any time using the drawer on the left.
See how your changes affect loot selection in real time. Now you can simulate selection for an entire loot source.
Windows 64-Bit Support, Windows Rendering Improvements, and Mac Dark Mode Support
Like the Mac version, the Windows version of Beacon is now 64-bit. What does this mean for you? Not much really. What you will notice is smoother drawing on Windows - much less flicker - and support for Dark Mode on Mac OS 10.14 Mojave.
October 2018 Development Update
Beacon development is going great! I'm currently working on small quality-of-life adjustments, testing, and working on a tutorial video. The new interface and all the new features it brings is nearly ready to ship. What I'm waiting on now is the next update of my dev tool, Xojo. I'm using a beta release, but I never ship production projects with beta dev tools. The update is targeted for some time this month. It's possible we'll see a final candidate release this week, so this isn't some "just a little longer" scenario like 7 Days to Die.
I'm still expecting to hit my goal of having the "big update" ready this month.
June 2018 Development Update
Hey, Beacon updates have been pretty few and far between, haven't they? I wanted to take a few minutes to share what's going on, though I'm sure you've read this same basic article from other developers.
Delays, personal life, blah blah blah. I know. Bear with me.
My Near Term Goal for Beacon
Beacon is in a pretty good spot right now, but the interface has not really grown well to accommodate all the new features. For a while, I've been working on a major user interface update for Beacon to resolve current issues and leave room to grow in the future.
This update must launch before Ark: Extinction is released on November 6th. I've set my deadline for October 6th, though I hope to be ready sooner than that. There's not really a ton left to do. I've put my todo list on GitHub for all to see.
Should I fail to hit this deadline, I can add the Extinction UI elements to the existing version of Beacon. I keep two branches of development active for a reason. I don't particularly want to add to the master branch, because there will be annoying merge conflicts with the development branch, but if I have to do it, I'll do it.
My Long Term Goal for Beacon
There are things I want to do with Beacon, but let's be honest, Ark is nearing the end of its life. I have doubts that I'll actually get to these goals. Ideally, though, Beacon would only require tweaks to support the inevitable Ark 2. So maybe I'll work towards these anyway.
I want Beacon to support more configuration options. Preferably, all of them.
I also want to create a mobile version, with all the config options supported. But I'll be honest with you right now, by mobile I mean iOS. This is because I'm an iOS user myself, I don't have any Android devices, and I have no Android dev tools. The tool I use to write Beacon is called Xojo and it supports iOS development, but not Android. However, Xojo's Android support is coming, so Beacon for Android is not out of the realm of possibility but I am not promising it either.
Why Development Has Been Slow
It's a number of factors these days. Only one of them is even slightly surprising.
- I don't play Ark as much, mostly because my group has moved on to other games. We come back from time to time though. Ever since Ark's content drops have slowed down, keeping player interest has been difficult. During the early access, Ark would get major updates roughly every month and keep us coming back.
- I'm a father of two young girls who demand lots of play time.
- The older of those two started school this past fall, which requires I get up earlier in the morning, which requires I go to bed earlier. I've basically lost 3 hours a day that I used to be able to develop Beacon in. Trying to balance dev time and play time is much harder with more than half of my free time gone each night.
- And extended family health issues.
It's mid-June and I still don't have my pool open and the yard is looking more than a bit unkempt. So finding time for Beacon is pretty hard. Summer vacation starts next week, so ideally I'll be able to devote a few more hours each week to Beacon and get back on track.
On the quest to build a better Beacon, it became obvious the website needs some adjustments. So I'm pleased to launch this refreshed website for Beacon.
Here's a rundown of what I've created recently.
Browse & Build Configs
A surprising number of users are unable to actually run Beacon due to only having access to a mobile device or a Chromebook, so they come to the Discord channel looking for somebody to build an ini file for them.
The problem with this is Beacon needs to know a bit about the destination server to do its job correctly. It would also be nice for these users to select files on their own, rather than being at the mercy of a random stranger.
To assist these users, it is now possible to browse the community documents right on the website. There are filters to show only documents compatible with certain maps, and even a way to exclude documents that are not compatible with the console versions of Ark.
This browser will also create a Game.ini just like Beacon does. Just set the Max Dino Level, and if the document supports multiple maps, choose the maps to be included. Then users can choose to either create a brand new Game.ini, paste their current Game.ini, or upload their current Game.ini.
The online document browser is a fantastic way for users with restricted devices to get in on the custom loot party.
Improved Mod Support
To date, not a single mod author has listed their creation with Beacon. That's unfortunate. Part of this has to do with the gateway to entry, which will be improved. In the future, it will be possible to create an account on this website and register a mod without downloading Beacon. I'm simply not ready for that yet.
In the meantime, I've prepared a guide explaining the steps and options available to mod authors.
On top of that, the new mods page lists all currently supported mods. Ark's official DLC's are listed as mods too for organizational purposes. Clicking a mod shows all engrams and loot sources provided by that mod. This mod support also improves the document browser, as it can now identify exactly which mods each document uses, as long as that mod is registered with Beacon.
With this improved mod support comes a nice surprise. Structures Plus and Primitive+ engrams are now officially included in Beacon's database!
The sidebar now includes a search field. Just type, it'll find stuff. Help articles, mods, engrams, community documents - most of the website can be found with this search field.
And Finally, This Blog
Hopefully I'll put out developer updates every so often for the benefit of those who don't talk to me on Discord.