4:30am Update

As I write this it’s 4:30am, that unpleasant time of night when you can’t predict whether the Burger King drive through is going to sell you a Whopper Meal or a Croissanwich Meal. (It was the latter, and I am sad.) I’ve just arrived at the tiny Elder Game office to work on MMO bugs. I figured I’d give a brief status update while I eat this surprisingly greasy breakfast sandwich.

I had some great days last week, getting a ton of bugs fixed, but they left me pretty tired. Yesterday I alternated between sleeping continuously and waking up just enough to play Bioshock for a few hours, then falling back asleep. I’m less tired now, but Bioshock is still at home beckoning… so I am here at the office instead!

(If you skip on testing Project Gorgon to play Bioshock Infinite, I won’t blame you. But it’s a pretty short game, so remember to come back!)

What Players Are Saying

The feedback from the MMO has been great, and I really appreciate every piece of info you’ve sent in. Please keep sending info, it’s my best way of telling what’s going on right now. And if six people report the same bug, that’s not a waste… that means I should prioritize it!

It’s actually pretty hard for me to get a read on the general opinion of the game… some people really get into it. Others think it has potential but aren’t really hooked in its current form. Others quit within a minute or two.

The game does seem similar to other MMOs at first, so that may be part of the problem. But then again, it is similar to other MMOs in many ways. I’ve been aiming to improve on existing MMO tropes, not replace them.

For instance, rather than replacing hot bars, I want to show hotbar-style combat in the best light possible. But I’ve still got a long way to go there, I think. And anyway it’s not an approach everybody will enjoy.

Several people have mentioned how “adventure-gamey” it feels, and I’m glad of that, since it’s intentional. People who see the game as a pseudo-adventure-game seem to enjoy the exploration elements. People who play it like a regular MMO miss a lot of stuff… for instance, it’s possible to get out of the tutorial dungeon with a mere two skill sets, or a whopping six skills, depending on whether you do the adventure-y parts or not. (They can always go back later to find them, or find the skills elsewhere in the game… the problem is just that it can be boring having only two skills.)

I don’t telegraph how this works well enough, and lots of people seem to be missing big cues. Maybe those players aren’t going to like this game anyway, or maybe I just need to find a way to get them in the right mindset. I’m hoping for the latter.

In the short term what I’ll do is add a little note before you log in, trying to get you in the right mindset before you start. That’s heavy-handed, but it’ll work during alpha. Eventually I’ll redo the newbie experience entirely, but I don’t feel like I’m ready for that yet… I don’t really understand everything that needs to be focused on well enough yet.

Engine Status

The Gorgon Engine itself is holding up well. The physics-processing units are CPU-bound, meaning that there’s a bit of lag in moving monsters around sometimes, but it’s pretty mild right now. I can wait on optimizing that part. If a bunch of players join in and make the lag noticeable, I’ll just rent another server and run additional physics units.

The “brain box” that ties all the physics units together is using almost 0% of its CPU, which is good since there’s only a few players online at once. (If necessary, I can set up multiple linked brain boxes, but I’d prefer if I can use one brain box for an entire world — it’s much simpler!)

However, that brain box is using way too much memory. It’s a Java program, so the memory graph naturally looks like a buzzsaw due the garbage collector — and that’s fine. But the low point of the buzzsaw graph slowly climbs up and up and up throughout the day, until it suddenly plummets all the way back down, or it runs out of memory and crashes the server.

This means that some game system is retaining a ton of memory, and very occasionally cleaning itself up. I’m not sure what’s going on there. I’ve used memory profilers on my test server, but it doesn’t show anything… this leak is only detectable when multiple people are playing for hours at a time.

So I’m going to have to do memory profiling on the live server… something I’ve never done in Java before. So look forward to that sometime this week! Hopefully you won’t notice a thing… it will use more CPU, but the brain box has so much CPU to spare that it shouldn’t be detectable. But we’ll see!

What’s Coming In The Next Week

I’m working on some serious bugs tonight, such as “I gave Joeh a gift and suddenly he Despises me and won’t talk to me”. After that I’m going to work on improving corpses — making them easier to loot and less cluttery when there’s dozens of them. (It’s not as simple as melting them away, since you may be planning to come back and harvest those corpses, or autopsy them, or just plain eat them…)

After that, I’ll look into the friendly-fire bugs, fix up some missing Favor quests, and then probably on to the third dungeon.

And also, somewhere in there, profiling the server’s RAM usage.

What’s Coming This Month

And beyond next week? I have two more combat skills and four more non-combat skills that are partially done… including huge ones like pet taming and armor crafting! I intend to get those finished up in the coming weeks. I’ll also be fleshing out the rest of the NPCs so they have Favor quests, and  adding more things to do on the landscape and in the dungeons. There are a bunch of new monsters waiting in the wings from the LoE team, and handy new skills like teleportation. Lots of content, in other words.

At this point, with so few players, I’m skipping things like grouping features, custom chat rooms, guilds, and so on. Those will come when the average load is more than three players!

However, this is just my current plan… your feedback can really change my direction, so if there’s pressing issues keeping you from playing (or at least from enjoying yourself), please let me know!

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29 Responses to 4:30am Update

  1. Fnord says:

    Played for a few hours, sent you a bunch of bug reports, mostly over stuff that’s either pretty trivial or stuff that happens even in release MMOs (I found the angry bear misplaced and apparently stuck, and mobs stuck in terrain is something I’ve seen in released MMOs).

    Unfortunately, for me at least the lag was pretty bad once I got into town. As in, enough where I’d get disoriented because I couldn’t tell how far I’d turned because it was lagging and then jumping. This could be a result of my internet connection, which can intermittently get spotty. Or maybe I dropped in at a bad time for the server RAM issue. So I’m going to try it again later, and hope it is an intermittent issue like that.

  2. Eric Heimburg says:

    That sounds like client lag. If you get a chance to try again, please turn on the FPS counter in options , see what the frame rate is when you’re having trouble.

    There’s literally no player-repositioning in the logs, meaning if your avatar isn’t moving smoothly, it’s not happening on the server! But if you’re moving fine and the monsters are blipping around, that’s very likely server-side.

  3. Ken says:

    It’s laggy today, it took three attempts to log in and get the zone loaded. Once in, I almost couldn’t get anything done other than chat. I was able to collect 1 mushroom after trying to pick it something like 10 times. I couldn’t collect anything else, craft, or fight a pig.. so.. I don’t know if it’s the server or that DDOS attack that as being going on.

  4. Stropp says:

    I logged in today again, and managed to get through the cave.

    Once outside though things started getting laggy and non-interactive. Kens description of picking mushies is what I experienced. I also couldn’t equip or unequip gear, or talk to the first guy I met in town.

    I logged out and back in, but then it seemed I didn’t finish loading, and after a few minutes was autologged out. It looks a little like the server has crashed.

    I sent in a few bug reports on various things but I’m not sure all of them got through.

  5. wins32767 says:

    Are you running your java server code through some static analysis tools like Sonar (with findbugs turned on)? It sounds like you are holding onto some references for longer than you need to (or not releasing them at all) and static analysis stuff might help.

  6. Eric says:

    Yep it ran out of memory right after I stopped watching, dammit. In the short term I need to get it to reboot itself when that happens. Will look at doing that tomorrow.

    wins – good idea, I’ll try that tomorrow also!

  7. Stropp says:

    Are you still using SmartFoxServer?

    Does that have a watchdog process to restart failed servers?

  8. Eric says:

    No, it’s not using SmartFox. But I do have a watchdog app to restart the server if it crashes. However what happens is that it runs out of memory and DOESN’T crash… instead it tries very hard to keep working with almost no memory, which makes it very slow and horrible.

  9. Mouse says:

    Regarding ‘similar to other MMOs at first’ – if you haven’t checked Psychochild’s blog lately, I’d read his 3/18 post. Similar at first, then divergent is arguably a good thing.

    Regarding 2 to 6 starting skills – I’d argue to increase this. Start the base player with 4-6, not counting the optional find-able skills (thus max 8-10 when leaving the area). At least make sure the first-zone-in skill(s) immediately has/have multiple buttons which can be pressed (that are active use – not buffs or weird mechanics). Whopper/Croissanwich meal is greatly enhanced by being able to alternate between sandwich, side order, and beverage.

    From personal experience, nothing has ever been quite so bad as the vanilla WoW paladin experience, where the most interaction I could have was pressing one button every eight seconds. GW2 at least gets you past that hurdle after you press said single button a half-dozen times.

  10. someguy says:

    the terrain height is screwed up in small spots, but there are so many of these spots it would require a complete revamp of the terrain height map over the entire first zone.
    I reported two at the start of town, then decided to stop mentioing them.

  11. Cenan says:

    I’m enjoying the game, the novel mechanics and constant reminders to not take it too seriously. Some things i noticed during play this weekend, in no particular order:

    Fire Magic needs to be made a bit easier to research, it’s really hard to playtest when my skill is 15+ levels above my best spell, simply because I havn’t seen any of the drops I need to create new spells (Fire Dust i finally found, but it’s waay too rare). It does feel a bit unfair that my fire skills needs drops, but other combat skills just get learned for no reason other than levelling the skill.

    Also, the fire magic teacher refers to someone named George in “the bar”. My first questions was “what bar?” second came when i found the bar: “where is George?”. It is not really obvious which bar he refers to (there are no signs that i could see, and there a mutliple places that could be “a bar” in the town) and the NPC missing is just frustrating, since fire magic guy says he might sell me stuff I need.

    Fire Magic guy has a quest named “Get some culture”. If you start it after you’ve found all the lore items in town, he won’t recognise that you’ve seen them. Even if you inspect them again.

    Some guy on a plateau wants ancient bronze coins, and then he doesn’t. No coins i found would satisfy him.

    It would be terrific if the chat window could somehow be a little more informative. Like timestamping entries, only showing chat lines that have been added since login, maybe find a way to make the chat window permanent (I find i play with it closed most of the time, which is a shame)

    It could be really helpful if the client could keep a log of things you’ve been told by NPCs. Like codes for doors and such, or simply a complete dump of everything NPCs tell you.

    The girl with the bear in her barn will give you props for killing the bear, as long as it’s dead. Doesn’t matter who killed it, it seems. I got an update for being killed by the bear and then stopping by some hours later to talk to her.

    Its cool that running has a cost but it looks a bit silly to be charging into battle lightly strolling, maybe add some “charge…” abilities to close the distance?

    When i try to plant a flower (and I’ve tried very many places) all i get is a cryptic “flowers can only be planted in a certain place”. What’s up with that? And where do i get pots then? Rita wants flowers, and i can’t help :)

    All in all this game is seriously enjoyable, and i like the vision about discovering things on your own. I’ve played two characters so far, levelling swords, unarmed and fire magic. Unarmed seems to be the most powerful, both in terms of items with effects that boost unarmed skills but also the skills themselves. That you get two stuns makes most encounters very very easy. And with meditation you get even more chocolade on your cake. It almost sometimes feels like too much.

    Lastly, could we during aplha phases maybe get some more bag space? I like that we have to make choices about what to keep. But it also makes people skip quests that require something they won’t normally hang on to.

  12. Ken says:

    The server seems more stable since I logged in later last night. I still have to log in two or three times to get fully in, but that is not hard. The loading is taking extra long, but once I am in it feels normal once again.

  13. Gondal says:

    Eric,
    thanks for fixing the faction bug with Joeh.
    It was annoying as hell not being able to access the storage.

    When you have time, please look at the staff skill learning quest. As Cenan already commented, the guy wants two ancient bronze coins. I already looted 20 of them (they are named as Ancient Bronze Coins), but they do not advance the quest (maybe beacuse of the starting capital letters?).

    Then there are some more quests where I can’t find the right items to solve them, but I will continue and try to find the solution before crying for help :p

    Keep up the good work!

  14. Lolin says:

    Ok I am finally able to get in a couple hours most days. Ended up starting over cause I couldn’t remember how to do anything. When reporting bugs, do you want needed graphic fixes or do you want us to focus on game play issues? Is there a relationship between the unarmed skill and cow skill? Also, I left you some forums related questions over on the forums. http://stratics.com/community/threads/citan.297211/

    Thanks!!

  15. Eric says:

    Cenan – thanks for the feedback! I’ve tried to address some of the easier-to-fix issues in the next update. Some of them are harder than they look, but I’m tackling those too. (Like the damned bear’s pathfinding… took forever, but will be fixed tomorrow.) Flowers should be plantable in “garden” areas — one such area is near the windmill in the first town.

    Ken – that sounds like yet ANOTHER kind of lag! Are you having trouble with the “fog” not clearing and turning into avatars? That could be due to a bug, or it could be due to issues reaching my CDN.

    Gondal – thanks, tackled these for the next update. I expected to put the update live tonight, but ran into some problems, so it will go up tomorrow in the early afternoon. If you have quests that you think are broken, feel free to ping me, because… odds are they’re broken :)

    Lolin – thanks, I replied there. On art bugs, at this point probably not worth reporting yet. There’s a vague relationship between Unarmed and Cow in that the Kick ability from unarmed can be used by cows. This lets cows raise the Unarmed skill, and get access to Unarmed power ups, and in turn, many Unarmed power ups improve all Kick attacks … including animal hoof-kicks.

    On my todo list is a small set of additional Unarmed abilities called Cow Fu, which will give higher-level cows some more Unarmed abilities and let them use some of the Unarmed combos. (I called it Cow Fu to be cute, but the abilities will actually be usable in any animal form, like deer or pig or werewolf… though werewolves are likely to find it a waste of time since their killing powers are better.)

  16. Hamburgerler says:

    I haven’t sunk my teeth in very far yet, but from what I saw, I really did like a lot.
    It’s more adventurous than just “Kill x things”
    I also enjoyed how it didn’t hold your hand too much, it told you what to do, but not force you to do so.

    Encouraging exploration is a definite positive and you did it perfectly.
    I have a few issues with the lag and some of the animations (that walk animation), but I know it is pre-alpha so I’m ignoring them.

  17. Gondal says:

    Probably corrupted char data

    I still have more problems with my char Gondal3 now.

    As you fixed the faction bug with Joeh, I finished the quest to kill the named bear and got the faction to get to closefriends level. So I took the 2 next available favor quests (collect 12 pig shoulders and collect some leather parts).
    After logging out for the night I wanted to continue yesterday with that char but couldn’t log in. I thought it might be lag in town so I tried an new char and could play in the starting cave.
    Today I wanted to try again but still can’t log in with Gondal3. Every other char works perfectly fine.
    So I assume that something is botched with this char.
    I am stuck right at the first picture you see when entering the game before spawning at the place you logged off.
    Hopefully the char data isn’t corrupt as I already had a few skills trained quite high.

  18. Ken says:

    Yeah Eric, I do often get that problem at login where objects and npcs in the world will be that little cluster of fog balls on the ground. Currently, I will log in, then the data will SLOWLY download from the cdn server, then I will see the starting screen for that area, after which the unity plugin will crash. I will then reload the unity player, reload the level (lucky I have very little hair to pull on at this point). Then I get back to the starting screen and immediately logout, Once I log back in, the scene loads and I am in the world. at this point everything in-game loads relatively slow, but eventually everything is ‘normal’.

    On another note, I don’t really know if its related to testing code or whatever, but right after a object is picked from the ground I notice there can be a lag spike of about 2-3 seconds. Last night though, this appeared to clear up for a while. So.. I am only mentioning it to be thorough.

  19. Ken says:

    Hmm, the server appeared to go down sometime between 10pm and 10:30pm PST tonight. Could just be the Canadian one since I live there. I noticed it went down then right up within seconds last night and thought nothing of it other than a likely manual reset, there was no serious lag beforehand. I didn’t notice lag issues before it went down tonight, though it has not come back up yet.

  20. Eric says:

    It’s just down while I’m doing an update. Just taking longer than expected :)

    EDIT: just came back up.

    Ken, if you have lag when picking up items again, can you open the Options screen and see what it says your Ping is? I added a Ping counter and a Framerate counter to that screen to help me diagnose your lag issues.

  21. Austin says:

    I was wondering if there were going to be visual updates in the future? Right now most of the areas I’ve been to seem kind of barren. I mean, there are trees and shrubbery, but the zones seem like they just took a few minutes to make.

    I’m not a graphics whore by any means, but I do appreciate a good aesthetic. Right now it’s a bit lacking.

    The mechanics of this game are very, very promising though. Love that.

  22. Lolin says:

    On the storage issue, one of the vendors has a very small vault. I can’t remember his name. I believe you can drop items on the ground and have your alt pick them up as well. Question: can you delete characters? And kudos! I love how beginner namals are not carrying around weapons and gear, but do have ingedients for recipes. However, it leaves a problem of how to make money when your in the starter town. Crafting is starting to get expensive…which it should…but need some income if I am in explore and craft mode and not wanting to go to the castle yet.

  23. Ken says:

    I noticed the update once the server came back up almost right after I posted here hehe. If I notice that lag again I will report the ping times in relation to it.

  24. Ken says:

    I was keeping the options window open monitoring ping and frame-rate today. I noticed no changes in ping time or frame-rate that appeared to correlate in any way with the lag issue. I noticed it is more serious in animal form than in normal bipedal form. Frame-rate only drops during load times which is expected. Ping time also increases quite a bit during loads, and then goes down to reasonable levels during normal game-play.

    I do still get that ‘lag’ spike when I pick things, most of the time, but not always. I notice it in that I cannot change my character’s velocity during that short time. I have learned not to run towards a cliff while picking something.

  25. Eric says:

    Ken: thanks for the info! I figured out what you’re referring to, now. The character’s controls are now locked during the “pickup” animation. The bug is that you continue to keep your current speed if you were already moving. I’ll fix that for the next build! I’ve also tightened the animals’ pick-up animation so that they aren’t stuck standing still for so long just because their animation loop is longer than the humans’.

    Lolin: you can’t delete characters yet, but you’ll be able to eventually. (There’s also no limit on characters per account yet, but there will be eventually.) For money, I’ll eventually give out more money in low-level Favor quests. But no matter what I do there, crafting will get expensive pretty soon, and you’ll have to go exploring for money sources.

    Austin: if only it really did take “a few minutes” :) but yes, more decorations and artwork are coming for pretty much everywhere in the game.

  26. Ken says:

    Loads have been much quicker now, it seems as though maybe the CDN server was updated with everything, now the only load bar I watch is on the unity3D plugin, then I get right in with no problems.

  27. ThomasS says:

    My original character VicToMeyeZR didn’t transfer over. Can you take care of that please?
    /Second notification

  28. Cenan says:

    So I just logged on today, and was pleasantly surprised that your bug system works two-way. It is a very simple and nice way to let players know that they’re being heard – in-game. So thanks!

  29. Eric says:

    ThomasS: hm looks like things might be case-sensitive accidentally. I see an account named VicToMeyezr, lower-cased last letters.