Beacon Summer 2021 Dev Update

I do these little updates every once in a while to keep the community in the loop about my plans and thoughts for Beacon. It's been a while since my last update, so it's time for another.

Beacon 1.5.2

The next feature update to Beacon is 1.5.2. The two key features currently planned are a new "Other Settings" editor and an overhauled preset modifiers system.

Other Settings

There are a large number of simple settings that Beacon does not have built-in support for. This is because Beacon focuses on the things that are harder to do by hand. Changing something like the experience multiplier is dead simple, but does require learning about the available settings from the Ark wiki. I think all admins should be familiar with this anyway, but in the real world that isn't the case.

This new editor will give the user a more guided experience for all those little settings. Thanks to this new editor, Beacon's Custom Config editor will become useless for many users. I imagine only PC admins with mod configs will actually need the Custom Config editor.

This is a good thing though. I've wanted to implement a better code editor for Custom Config, but it's a monumental task and I'm still waiting for certain code projects to become open source as they have announced they will be. By scaling back what the Custom Config editor is useful for, code editor improvements are largely unnecessary.

This editor though is proving to be a challenge and I've hit the programmer's equivalent of writer's block, so I don't have an ETA yet. But it has been started and it is coming.

Preset Modifiers

The way Beacon handles preset modifiers right now really... sucks. That's going to change, thanks to a new Modifiers tab in the Presets view. Users will be able to actually edit and properly manage those modifiers.

The new modifiers will also allow greater control of loot container selection. Currently modifiers are matched against loot container class strings using Regular Expressions. While this works, a user looking to match all red drops would have trouble writing an expression to do so. It's possible, but a challenge.

So preset modifiers will begin to allow JavaScript to perform the matching. All the container stats will be available to the JavaScript code, so a user could check against the container multipliers, its color, its name, class strings, path, mod... whatever is necessary. Users could write simple comparisons, complex logic blocks, or even entire functions.

Scheduled Deployments

I've had a few questions about this recently, and I don't have a solid answer about this yet. For Beacon 1.5 I had planned to allow users to schedule a deployment to happen later or even recurring. As an example, the idea is users could setup their server to be updated every Friday to turn on PvP and then again on Monday to turn it back off. This is a very major feature because it requires Beacon's server (or servers) to do the deploy work. In the interest of getting Beacon 1.5 released, this feature was pulled for later.

At this point, I'm not sure when later might be. I'm debating saving it for Beacon 2. I have not spent any time on the feature since my decision to shelve it. It's something I'd like to do, but it's not currently on my schedule.

Mobile Support

I've had luck getting Beacon's backend code running on iOS. That's an important hurdle, but only a small fraction of the work that would need to happen. A full user interface would still need to be designed, there are issues with the launch process, and long running processes like deploy are a total mystery right now. Android support is non-existent at the moment, as my dev tool still has not released anything for Android support. I think once both an Android and iOS version are viable, I'll put some serious effort into making it happen. But like above, this isn't a promise that it will happen. It could be years before Android support is viable, at which point I may have missed the boat.

Looking to the Future

With Ark 2 on the horizon, I need to figure out how to make Beacon support multiple games. Beacon's data updates already include information about which game the data belongs to, and Beacon has been checking that for a few versions now. This means when I do start publishing update data for Ark 2, Beacon 1.5 already knows how to avoid trying to process it.

The big challenge is that I don't know what Ark 2's data will look like. I won't know until launch. So the work I do must be exceptionally flexible. I believe I have a way to make this happen, but I'm sure there will be some growing pains. On the plus side, the changes I'm planning may allow for support for non-Ark games in the future. I've looked into support Rust and 7 Days to Die, but neither have a ton of options that make a tool like Beacon necessary. I'm not promising anything, but it's something I've explored.

I am concerned that Ark 2 will not offer the level of customization that Ark has seen. The number of options Wildcard gives us for Ark is incredible and the game is still successful because of those options. Without the flexibility given to us, I don't believe Ark would still be driving the player counts that it does after six years. But these options are a nightmare for Wildcard. They are a pain for developers who have to worry about how every one of them affects new systems. They are a pain for customer support agents, who have to play twenty questions with every admin just to figure out what's going on. And they are a pain for the bean counters because admins take the new DLC content and transplant it into older/free maps. It would not surprise me in the slightest for Ark 2 to be far more "locked down" than Ark. Given the Microsoft exclusivity, I'd even be surprised if Steam mods were allowed. My expectation is that Ark 2 will launch on PC exclusive to the Windows Store, meaning we'd all be playing the Xbox version. Steam support may come in the future, alongside the PS4 support, but I expect it'd still be the same Xbox version, just sold through Steam. I hope I'm wrong. I hope Ark 2 will give Beacon 2 a reason to exist. But what we've seen so far suggests Ark 2 will be a very different game.

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