As the calendar is about to roll over from 2021 to 2022 and development of Milestone 2 of Kingdoms of Elyria is almost complete, it's time for us to present our annual "State of Elyria" report to our backers and community members.
If you're just tuning in after a long period away, the fact that much of this “State of Elyria” is focused on something called Kingdoms of Elyria, might come as a surprise to you. So, as a quick reminder...
Chronicles of Elyria is such a large game that we split it up into three separate, testable game experiences back in 2016. You can read more about that in DJ #19: Pre-Alpha Experiences. In summary, each Pre-Alpha Experience was intended to allow for development (and testing) of a specific subset of CoE's mechanics and world-building, with the integration of the three experiences culminating in the release of Chronicles of Elyria.
The first, called Prologue: The Awakening, was focused on the development and testing of the core adventuring mechanics such as character creation, combat, crafting, movement & locomotion, etc., all the while telling the story of events that occurred just 20 years prior to the state of the world at CoE's launch. This, being the events surrounding the town of New Haven, and the nearby village of Silver Run. From a development time-line perspective, 2016 and the first half of 2017 were spent on Prologue: The Awakening.
The second experience, called ElyriaMUD (and later VoxElyria & Prelyria), was focused on the multi-player mechanics such as communication, contracts, trade, and organizations. This, along with the third Pre-Alpha experience, was intended to take place over the 50 years before the events of The Awakening. The second half of 2017 through 2019 were spent focusing on this, along with the development of a new client to support it. The latter part of that timeline was also spent developing the world generation tools necessary to construct our four, unique game maps: Angelica, Luna, Selene, and Oceanus.
The third experience, called Kingdoms of Elyria, was focused on the domain, settlement, and land management mechanics such as government, laws, research & technology, architecture, building construction, and regional economics.
Over the last year we've been working on Kingdoms of Elyria as both a way to focus on the mechanics that are most interesting to our active community members, and because we felt that Kingdoms of Elyria was the most viable candidate of the three testing experiences to be elevated to a stand-alone game. This is being done for the purpose of transitioning Soulbound Studios from a crowdfunding-based company to a retail-based company; and enabling us to finish development of CoE.
As a reminder, Kingdoms of Elyria, whether a testing experience or a full-fledged game, is available to all CoE backers with at least an Elyrian Pledge package, without further purchases.
Ok, with that out of the way, let's talk about our progress and plans for 2022. But first, let me address the elephant in the room for our backers who do not have Alpha 1 Access.
If you don't have access to the Early Access section of the forums then it looks like we went radio silent, aside from the newsletter we sent out in August, beginning in July. The fact that this coincides with the start of our Alpha testing is no coincidence.
With the release of our "Alpha test as a service," we found that the work of providing regular updates to the Alpha testers, in addition to reading the submitted feedback and implementing changes in time for the next release, was an all-consuming development cycle for our tiny little development team.
The cycle consisted of working like crazy to develop the anticipated features and improvements for the next release, doing builds and internal testing, launching the test and gathering feedback, planning the next release, and then starting the whole process over again. This cycle eventually settled into a consistent, two-week process, but was all-consuming none-the-less.
We decided it was most important to keep the Alpha testers up to date and committed to providing a public update after we finished each milestone. Unfortunately, Milestone 2 stretched on and on as we continued to iterate on our backend architecture, Entity Component System, and goal-based AI. Those things combined resulted in an extended period of silence.
Moving forward, we're going to commit to quarterly updates regardless of where we are in the development cycle. That all said, it's time to talk about how the Alpha test is progressing and where we are in development.
In the interest of updating those who do not have access to the Alpha test, I wanted to take a quick moment to talk about how our Alpha testing has evolved and progressed. When we first laid out our milestone plan it was assumed we were going to complete all work for two milestones at a time, and then ship a playable build to the testers which they could provide feedback on. In April we changed our plans to incorporate support for a continuous release strategy, where we could provide updated versions to the testers as incremental updates. Time was spent between April and June building the infrastructure and the launcher to support this release process and this summer we released the first version of the Early Alpha test to community members with Alpha 1 access.
At first, new releases became available as builds were completed that we were satisfied with. This worked, but we found that random releases like this made it impossible for people to anticipate when testing would commence, and difficult for us to receive feedback in a timely manner. So, we amended the process to consist of regular releases, done semi-weekly (every other week), regardless of any bugs or issues that existed. We also limited Alpha testing to just weekends to narrow the time in which we received feedback, giving us more time to incorporate the feedback into the upcoming release.
This stable release cycle continued for several months until a significant overhaul of our Entity Component System and integration of our new AI system into player character control rendered the game unplayable for over a month. During that time, it was impossible to control the PC, so we refrained from doing any public releases until just yesterday, December 30th, when the game was once again in a playable state. We've now resumed our semi-weekly release schedule.
In our first blog post about our development roadmap, titled The Road Ahead, we listed a number of features to be included in Milestone 1 and 2 – the focus of Early Alpha. Below is the list of features we planned for Early Alpha and their status:
To elaborate a bit, the Fog of War still fills back in after the player citizen leaves the area. This is because we weren’t quite certain HOW we wanted to communicate what a player citizen remembers to the player. In the end, we’ve decided to literally tie the fog of war to the PC’s memory system. In a future release, the fog of war will leave a semi-transparent version of the world behind that reflects what the PC “remembers” about that area. As time passes, the memory will become fuzzier, resulting in inaccuracies such as changes to the size and types of trees, changes to their positions, etc. We feel like this is going to add some very interesting gameplay elements to a traditional colony sim game.
Settlement Types & Requirements has been postponed until the next milestone, as settlement types are tightly connected to the buildings available within the settlement.
While UI/UX is marked as done, the UI/UX is something that will continue to be iterated on throughout development.
Survival is listed as in-progress because, while the system is in place, there’s still actions that the PC cannot do, such as drink from the well or eat food. So, while the survival metrics are already being tracked, there are several that cannot be recovered from just yet.
Foraging and Hunting is marked as in-progress because while foraging works, you cannot consume the food yet and hunting has not been released to the Alpha testers yet.
Animal AI is still rudimentary and isn’t as complex as I’d like. We still hope to have that improved before M2 is completed.
NPC AI is still not complete, but we anticipate it being available in the next release to Alpha testers.
And finally, NPC Interaction has been postponed until M2, along with Contracts. This has been done to allow more time to incorporate feedback we received from Alpha testers on how they’d like NPC interaction and contracts to work. We’ll be dividing our time up in M3 between buildings & construction, as well as on Contracts.
All the above said, there has been other work taken on that was NOT initially planned for M2. Specifically, the core data models are in place for almost all of the work we need to do for the later milestones. Furthermore, we spent a significant amount of time on our platform/game engine and scalable architecture; which should dramatically speed up the rest of development, and will minimize the amount of time needed between the offline versions of KoE and the first online release. Additionally, because Milestone 2 stretched on so much longer than we expected, our content folks had the opportunity to expand the available biomes we have for testing.
Initially, we were planning to just spend M1-M7 in the Mixed Forest, as it provides us everything we need to test the available game mechanics. But we’ve since decided to provide a different set of biomes for each of the upcoming Alpha test phases. During M2 we’ve spent time creating the never-before-seen Shrublands, as well as the Taiga. These will both be available for testing in the Mid-Alpha test.
Finally, in support of the additional biomes, the content team has been working on new and existing assets for those upcoming biomes, including bringing more of the Elyrian animals over from the UE4 game client to our Unity client. This includes the Trison, Ursaphant, Flower Cup Porcupine, Conifer Rat, Domino Fox, and Shrublands Wildcat.
With Milestone 2 taking so much longer than expected, with us having access to more biomes and assets than we expected at this point, and with so much effort going into our architecture and platform, we’re making some changes to both the timelines of each upcoming Alpha test phase, as well as their scope. Here’s the info we have on anticipated/targeted dates for each Alpha test phase:
Early Alpha (Covering Milestones 1 & 2) will be completed at the end of January. There are two more releases for M2; v0.1.14 and v0.1.15. The first will finally include NPC AI, the latter is a polish pass for fixing the fog and adding hunting.
Mid-Alpha (Covering Milestones 3 & 4) will be coming in the spring. The exact date is unknown yet, but with it will come the ability to design buildings in the architecture view, and then construct the buildings in the world. Additionally, due to some re-organization of our milestones, Mid-Alpha will also include the ability to enter the buildings and interact with storage and other stations so you can deconstruct primary resources and perform crafting.
Late Alpha (Covering Milestones 5 & 6) will be coming this summer, and will include families & immigration, giving NPCs and PCs the ability to marry & reproduce, and will introduce the concept of immigrants that may want to join your settlement. Additionally, Late Alpha will introduce the ability to buy land, add infrastructure, and perform farming on the land.
Given all that, the upcoming milestones will now focus on the following features:
Milestone 7 (Beta Test)
Because the completion of Early Alpha took so much longer than expected, we will be expanding Alpha test coverage for Mid-Alpha to include people with both Alpha 1 and Alpha 2 access, from the start. This is being done to broaden the number of active testers we have, and to say "thank you" to our patient Alpha 2 testers who've waited so long to get their hands on the game.
Given the shift in development because of the prolonged Milestone 2, the overall timeline for KoE and CoE must necessarily be adjusted. While still just an estimate, we’re now targeting the following dates for the release of the different versions of KoE and CoE.
Ok all, that just about wraps it up for this “State of Elyria.” As mentioned before, we’re aware that it’s been a long time since we’ve provided any public updates. With us expanding the scope of Mid-Alpha to include people with Alpha 2 access, the number of people feeling left in the dark will shrink, but that still doesn’t include everyone that wants to keep up to date. So, here’s our plans for the coming year to help keep people more informed, and the ways you can stay connected:
We're going to resume releasing monthly newsletters to our backers, beginning in January. Those will include links to any design or other dev blogs we've done during the month, any screenshots we’d like to share, as well as a note from me on the state of development.
As mentioned previously, we will also be releasing quarterly updates to the public, regardless of the state of development. The first of these will be at the end of March.
We've once again started using the forums for communication. If you have access to Alpha 1 (and soon Alpha 2), we open the Early Access forums during each Alpha test weekend to solicit feedback and questions from the testers related to the game and its development. Please use that time to reach out to us and say hi. We respond to as many forum posts as we can.
We've been posting updates to the official Discord server again. The conversation isn't bi-directional yet, with us just posting news of Early Access posts, but if you're part of the official Discord server, you can receive updates there as well.
As we get closer to the release of KoE: Settlements, and the game enters a more polished state, there will be more community engagement, more screenshots, and more gameplay videos made available to the public. In the interim, we look forward to bringing more of you on board to test to help make KoE and CoE the best games they can be. Finally, we’re looking forward to releasing our first full game as a studio to the public this coming year. It’s not the full CoE, but it is a significant portion of it, and most importantly, it gets us one step closer.
Thank you again to all of those who have continued to support us and believe in us through the years. Our commitment to finishing CoE has never wavered, and that’s only been possible due to your encouragement.
We wish all of you a Happy New Year, and a joyful 2022!
Pledged to the continued development of the Soulborn Engine and the Chronicles of Elyra,
Jeromy "Caspian" Walsh