One of the great joys of my job is seeing the progress being made and the game come to life. Every time a new asset is completed, an animation cycle is polished, or a new feature comes online it's like seeing a part of myself grow into its full potential. The feeling can't really be described.
The other great joy I have is communicating with you, the community. So updates like this are especially fun for me. In this update I get to tell you about some of the design stuff we've been working on and share with you some of the content that's being worked on. If you're like me, there's a lot in this update which will make you excited. So let's get to the roll call.
To begin the update on Production I wanted to quickly touch on something. I'm an excited person. I love what I do, I love video games, and I love sharing with you guys the work the team is doing. Unfortunately, my enthusiasm and desire to share with you what the team is working on "as it's happening," has led to some confusion in the past.
Game development is a long process. Art assets sometimes take weeks to make, systems go through design, architecture, and then implementation, and at any time in that process delays can happen. In times past I've said "We're currently working on X, it's our hope it'll be ready soon." But my idea of soon is relative to the game development process, and I'm also further known to exercise my right of hyperbole. Someone asked me the other day, "How old is your son?" to which I replied "Oh, he's almost a teenager." He turned ten last month. Obviously ten is not almost 13. But in a strange way it's close in my mind. Just like in my mind, 2-3 months is soon relative to an 18-month development cycle.
In any case, in an effort to reduce confusion and properly set expectations I've decided to use these updates to focus more on what has been done, not what will be done or what we are doing. As much as I love sharing that information with you and talking about it, these updates aren't the place for that. If you want to know what will be done or what we're currently working on, catch me on IRC or ask in the exclusive Developers forum when it opens. Speaking of "when it opens," let's move on to the Production updates.
In last week's update we talked a lot about the website and the delays involved with that, but in an effort to keep the update reasonably short I skipped talking about the store, believing it obvious from the state of things that the release of the store would have to be pushed back. The feedback I got was that it was not obvious, and a vocal minority were upset I didn't make mention of the store specifically. So let me use this opportunity to explain what's up with the store and website.
One lesson we learned during the launch of the v2 website was that we work much better, the team is healthier, and we're overall more effective when we follow a sustainable plan and load-balance our resources efficiently.
So after the initial launch of the v2 website we went back to the project board and broke the website down into bugs and features, and divided them up into multiple releases. v2.0.1 through 2.0.10 are our hotfix releases, 2.1 through 2.10 are our feature releases and 3.0 is the launch of our updated UI and v3 website. v3 uses the same technology as v2, but has some re-design in preparation for Kingdoms of Elyria.
So far we've deployed 2.0.1 through 2.0.5. With each new release the website becomes more stable, more functional, and more compatible across different browsers and formats; ie. desktop vs. mobile. I'm a huge fan of not building something as important as a store front on something which is known to have bugs and compatibility issues. So the release of the store has been pushed back to one of the feature releases, and won't be addressed until the hot-fixes are out and the stability has improved.
That said, we really appreciate peoples' interest in us having the store online. We know there are people who've backed us on Kickstarter that are looking forward to spending their IP on in-game stuff. We also know there are those who want to upgrade their pledge or support us but weren't able to do so due to a lack of credit card. The fact that you're so passionate about our project continues to be humbling, and we really, really do want to get the store online.
We promise, anyone who wants to show their support will have an opportunity to do so. But please remember, the guy implementing the store is the Creative Director, the guy designing the website is the Game Designer. So until we've got our web programmer, time spent focusing on the website and store is time spent not working on the game. Speaking of which....
Much of my focus since the Kickstarter has been on the website and store. At the same time, much of the team has been working on refactoring and creating new workflows to support an 18-month project life-cycle. But this week the design team and I got a chance to sit down and do both some design work (which we'll talk about more in a bit), as well as some project planning.
One thing we did this week was put all of the feature areas for the Prologue up on a whiteboard, draw up a dependency graph between them, and then identify the best order for us to move forward with design and implementation. What we have now is a plan for exactly when certain design decisions will be made, and in what order the remaining systems will be implemented. The team and I are really excited to be moving forward with this in-hand. And with that said, let's get on to the really exciting parts of this update!
While not complete, I wanted to share with you the masterpiece Eddie has been working on lately. This small concept is the work-in-progress of the Kickstarter Wallpaper we promised backers. This concept here is of what the Qindred call Haven. Not New Haven, Haven. This is the capital city of Elyria before the Burning and before Mann was cast out by Angelica. What you see in this concept is the home of Angelica and her descendants. This is the Mount Olympus of the Qin, if you will.
Over the last couple of weeks one of our character artists has been working on two systems related to equipment and layering. The first is the material system, and how things dynamically age over time. In the following video you can see several different armor pieces aging and rusting over time.
In this second video you can see how the new component system we talked about previously allows us to take a single piece of armor and construct it in multiple different ways. Pay attention to the etching on the front of the cuirass.
In this third video, taken in ZBrush, you can see the character with different pieces of equipment being added and removed. This is an early example of how configurable your equipment is.
As previously mentioned, the design team and I spent several days this week going over the list of feature areas. While most of the feature areas have designs already in place, there's still a lot of questions to be answered, and in some cases, re-design work that needs to be done. The two areas we focused on this week were the day/night cycle, as well as the seasons. Here's what's happening with those...
We'd long said we wanted a day/night cycle for CoE. In what is likely to be the most dynamic MMO to date, it would seem out of place not having a day/night cycle. Not to mention, it's a perfect opportunity to hang other advanced mechanics off of like weather, animal behaviors, energy and vitality, etc... But with a day/night cycle comes certain questions such as:
The first one was, we thought, fairly simple to answer. We know people tend to enjoy day more than night, but night is important as well (for the more nocturnal characters). We previously settled on a 2.5-hour day/night cycle with 1.5 hours of day, and 1.0 hour of night. However, that doesn't really leave time for a clear dusk/dawn. After some back & forth, we decided that we'd leave the amount of day-time in-tact, and pull dusk/dawn from the night cycle. So for the most part, day and night is broken down as:
But that leads to a bigger question: why 2.5 hours per day? Wouldn't 2 hours be better? Or 3? Then we could have an even number of in-game days per real-day.
This is where careful analysis of our players is very important, and it also happens to be one of my favorite parts of game design. We have a choice: make the hours of the day consistent across each day, or not.
To go more in depth, if we make it so in-game days are evenly divisible into 24 hours (2 hrs., 3 hrs., etc..), it means at 5pm on Monday it'll be the same in-game time of day as 5pm on Tuesday. If we make the days not evenly divisible into 24 (ex: 2.5 hrs.), then it means 5pm on Monday it may be dusk, while 5pm on Tuesday it may be dawn!
The team and I spent several hours on this problem as it's not as obvious as it may seem. If we go with the consistent schedule, and a person can only play from 6pm to 7:30pm every day then they are consistently shown the same day/night cycle. If that happens to be the cycle they want, that's great! If not, that's horrible. They'd be stuck playing at night every day.
On the other hand, if you're wanting to meet up with friends to go do something fun, you want to know what time of day it's going to be in the world. Can you imagine scheduling some big raid on a neighboring settlement only to sign on with your friends and find out it's the middle of the afternoon? Not the best time for that sort of thing. At the same time, if you know there's a consistent day/night cycle, but don't want to play at night, you're less likely to sign on when you know it'll be dark. This naturally leads to peaks and valleys in online presence. There will inevitably be less players online when it's dark.
With that said, if time isn't consistent, then it may be dark when you sign on, but you've set your OPC to be the night-time patrol for your settlement. So if you sign on and it's night-time, do you go wandering on patrol, or do you abandon your OPC obligation and go do something fun instead, leaving your post abandoned?
As you can see, there's actually a lot to consider here. We went back and forth for quite a while, and ultimately came to a couple conclusions regarding player objectives.
Having been MMO players for many years, the team and I know that the consistency for #2 is extremely important week-to-week, as guilds often plan events on a couple days of the week. Ie "we raid on Sundays". So what we were really looking for was a hybrid solution. We ultimately solved that problem by revisiting the first question, how long will day / night be?
The answer is, it's on average 75/15/45/15, however it changes slightly throughout the week, like the solstices and equinoxes in our world. There's some days that are longer and some days that are shorter. What this allows us to do is keep a mostly 2.5-hour uneven schedule, but also have more control over when day/night actually begins. The end result is that while the day/night cycle is different throughout the week, ie. Monday @ 5pm will be different than Tuesday @ 5pm, they are consistent from week to week. That is, Monday @ 5pm will always have the same lighting, every single week. This means if you sign on daily you don't have to worry about always seeing the stars but if you want to set up planned weekly events, you can do so on a day/time when you'll get the exact lighting you need.
Seasons have long been one of the most debated topics in our forums. Our initial design was to have a simple 24-hour cycle of seasons. So one day it's winter, the next day it's spring, the next day it's summer, and the last day it’s fall. To many this felt way too fast. We suspected it would be as well, however seasons effect so many different other mechanics that we didn't want to touch it until we either play-tested and determined that yes, we really have to change the length of seasons, or until we got a focused period of time where we could sit down, play with the mechanics, and see how they effected other feature areas.
Well, the designers and I sat down as part of our feature area review this week and talked through the mechanics and how it would impact other game-play elements. The most obvious areas affected by the seasons are food/farming, travel, and survival. Let's talk about each.
With respect to farming, we'd always had it in mind that each day you'd cycle through different types of crops: fruit, vegetables, and grains, and then harvest on the day or two after planting. This ensures a settlement consistently has food, but also has variety, as each day you get a different type of food. So if you're a cook or baker, you don't have to wait long periods of time before you've got the fruits you need, as well as the dough to make cakes, etc.
While this is certainly true, we realized it also has some downsides. First, as food types cycle through very quickly, it doesn't encourage advancement in refrigeration or preservation, and also discourages trade. Remember, Elyria has hemispheres just like our world. So while it's winter in some parts of the world, it's summer in others. By having different seasons in different places, each producing different goods, it encourages the establishment of trade routes between the different seasonal biomes. But this is only true if seasons last more than a day or two.
The other problem is that it makes farming seem less valuable. If you make a mistake and destroy your fruit crops, no big deal. Four days from now you'll get another chance. The corollary to that is, if you have to be offline for a day and miss the season you need for a specific recipe, you're out of luck for a few days.
Longer seasons solves all of those problems. But, instead of farming fruit, vegetables, and grain, three days in a row, you might instead plant three different vegetables. So each day you plant, maintain, or harvest a specific part of a field, leaving the rest for use later in the season.
Also, because seasons last longer, we can do more interesting things with the farming professions. We can add subtle complexities to it like making it so the success of a crop you plant is partially dependent on which crop was planted on that field previously.
We had previously had it in mind that expanding the season lengths, such as having longer winters, would make for longer, harder travel. After all, who wants to play in winter for four days straight? But it turns out, if we lengthen the seasons not only does it discourage travel in the bad seasons, but it encourages travel in good seasons. Since more people will be prone to traveling at certain times of year, it encourages the establishment of traveling groups and caravans. It also means that people willing to make the travel in the dead of winter, knee deep in snow, can command a higher premium for their services. It also means the prices of goods and services will fluctuate more between seasons as some goods become harder to get in the absence of a large number of travelers. In the end, the complexity to trade added as a result of longer seasons is just too hard to pass up.
One of the concerns people had previously is that with seasons that only lasted a day, they'd put on their heavy cloak for winter, sign off for a day or two, and then die of heat stroke as spring and then summer came in. While we've consistently told people that the seasonal shifts wouldn't be so dramatic as to require you to constantly change outfits, it raises a valid point. People want to feel like they have a chance to prepare for the seasons.
The implication to what I just said is that if we don't give people time to prepare for the seasons, then the transitions between them can't be extreme. But by giving people longer time to prepare for the seasons, it means we can do more with them. After all, we gave you fair warning. :-)
Finally, if the bad/tough seasons only last a day, people are more prone to just skip the seasons they dislike, leaving their OPC to man the fort while they're offline, rather than learn to deal with those seasons. It also means people are more likely to live in the snowy or rougher climates, as one day out of four to deal with the harshest weather isn’t too bad.
Seasons & Decisions
For all of the reasons above, and more, we've ultimately come to the conclusion that we too want longer seasons. Much longer. So on average, seasons in Elyria will no longer be one day, but four. That's right, four days of winter, four days of spring, etc...
But that's not all. Just like we needed solstices and equinoxes to keep the lengths of days consistent, we want to be able to keep seasons semi-consistent across weeks and months. To do that, we need seasons that are varying lengths. So while the average is 4 days per season, a season can be as short as two days, or as long as eight! And what's more, we're not going to be publishing a calendar or almanac of when the long or short seasons will be. Instead, we'll provide subtle clues in the world, as well as in the stars, to help the keen observer or astronomer recognize when the seasons will be... out of the ordinary.
So there you have it folks, seasons are no longer 1 day long, but instead range from 2 to 8 days, with a normal curve centered on 4 days per season. And for those who are nervous about longer seasons, remember, there are plenty of places in Elyria where the weather is milder and can largely be ignored.
Over on the animation front, our animators have been working on two different systems. First, the animators have been working on improvements to the cloth and layering system. In this first video you can see the bottom of the jerkin hanging freely, even in spite of changes in body dynamic. Also notice the belt as it seamlessly re-sizes to handle the larger individual.
In this second video you see improvements to the cloth mechanics. We've moved away from a complete cloth simulation into a hybrid system which has both better performance, as well as more control over how different pieces of cloth behave within the simulation. This allows for more advanced cloth encounters, like cloaks draped over backpacks, etc.
In addition to the character animation work we've been doing, the animators have also been working on animations for the different animals in the world. Unlike humans, animals can't be easily mocap'd and require several iterations and fine-tuning by our animators. When done well though, the result looks natural and life-like. Here's some videos of our Canis Rabbit and Trison. Note that these are being taken in Maya, not in Unreal, so there's no fur on the animals. Also, they're not finished. These are still works-in-progress. Enjoy!
Well, that's all for this update. Hopefully you got as excited as I did about seeing the progress, and I look forward to showing you more as the team moves toward completion of Prologue: The Awakening.