Grab Bag Update: Web Player, Skill Swapping, Languages

A quick update on lots of topics:

Unity Web Player Performance Sucks

It comes and goes, the web player. It depends on so many things: the browser, the OS, and the version of Unity. Right now, it’s pretty godawful for lots of people. If you’re on a Mac, it drops key presses, which is infuriating if you’re trying to chat. And on a PC it can get bottlenecked on mouse events, which is slightly less torturous, but also annoying.

It also loses frame-rate on all platforms, which causes the game to downgrade its graphics to Butt Ugly Mode. It runs significantly better in the stand-alone version.

So this is a big issue for me. I wanted to always support a web version, but if it’s going to suck, I don’t want people seeing the game like that. I can optimize performance in the web player, but it takes a LOT of time, and is it worth it?

But that’s a less-pressing issue than what I should do right now. I don’t have time right now to try to optimize the web player on every OS/browser combination.

So maybe I should switch to standalone game clients for now. The problem? There’s no patcher. That means people will have to manually download a new zip file every other day they play.

Fortunately the zip file is pretty minimal, because the game will still stream most of the assets. So we’re talking about a 100mb zip. Most people won’t have too much trouble with that. It’s just the annoyance factor of manually doing it.

(There are patcher solutions, but they’ll require a lot of prep work. I think it would be premature to set up a patcher right now.)

NaCl Builds Don’t Stream Scenes

The other thing I can do is provide a NaCl build of the game. That is Google’s Native Client, and it runs well in Chrome. But I think you have to manually turn on NaCl support, and anyway not everyone uses Chrome!

But I’d at least provide it as an option, except that it doesn’t stream-load like the web-player does. What I mean is that in the web-player version, you’re busy making your character while the world downloads in the background. With the NaCl version, you have to wait for the 100mb download to finish before you can begin playing at all. That’s not the best first impression. Actually, it’s kind of worse than making you download a zip file, because at least that’s a better-understood process. If you’re looking at a loading bar for 100mb of download, you’re likely to start wondering if it’s broken, or if you’re insane or what.

So anyway that’s why I haven’t used a NaCl build so far. I assume it would perform better once it got loaded, but I haven’t actually tested it out much.

(I can eventually fix this by streaming scenes a totally different way, as Asset Bundles, but I’d like to wait on that for a little while. It’d be even more variables added to the mix.)

How Bad Is The Framerate?

So I think the framerate issue is making the game un-fun for a lot of people. But I don’t really know for sure. I’m going to wire up the client so it tells the server its framerate every few seconds, so I can see how bad people have it. That should tell me if framerate is causing new players to abandon ship or not.

I’ve only had a couple hundred people try the game, and of those number, the gameplay times are pretty reasonable. In fact, if these were random people off the street, I’d say the game is retaining players at a really great ratio!

However, most of these people have been fans of the game, so I actually expected even higher average playtimes. There’s lots of possible causes of that, though…

More Direction Tools

After talking with some players, I’ve decided that there really needs to be some better hints to the content. I mean, it’s an exploration game, and I want you to just go poking around and find cool stuff. But a lot of people have been aggressively trained not to do this by other games in the MMO genre.

So I’m implementing the “Stuff To Do List” real quick. Basically it’s just a check-list of stuff to find in the first couple of zones. It’s not a complete list, but enough to hopefully teach players that there’s tons more stuff out there.

The danger is that once they complete that list, they’ll assume they’ve done everything and quit. So do I keep making more checklists? I guess that’s reasonable. The later ones will be kind of vague, just so you know there’s stuff out there.

But I still don’t want to put everything in a list… so I need more advanced ways to convey that there’s lots of stuff out there for you to find.

More Communication Tools

The average player never speaks, and most players don’t even open the Chat window for very long — it’s clunky and large, and if there’s no chatting, what’s the point?

This makes the game feel even more barren than it is, so I’m working on that a little. First I’m doing the obvious thing and adding a “ghost” mode for the chat window. So you’ll see player chat appear in a translucent box briefly, even if you don’t have the full chat window up.

Fiddling With Combat

Right now I have a little experimental GUI addition: there are two tiny dropdown boxes, one next to each skill bar. These let you change to other combat skills really rapidly.

Earlier in the blog, I said that you wouldn’t be able to change skills except at “Designated Changing Stations”. The reason is that I didn’t want you to feel like you had to constantly swap your skills… but practically speaking, it doesn’t seem to be a big deal, at least right now.

So I figured I’d see what happens if you go to the other extreme and make it super trivial to change skills. This feels to me like it goes too far… seems to tell new players “you’re going to need to change skills all the time.” But early on, that might not be such a bad thing. Most players right now are sticking with the two default skills even after they get new ones. That’s not necessarily the optimal way to play. Or at least not the most fun.

Eh, I dunno what’s best. Thus the experiment! I’ll see if I can gather some feedback about this new GUI approach.

Racial Languages

And now back to unimportant minutia!

I’ve been mulling “racial languages”. This stems from the idea that a Werewolf should be able to understand another Werewolf, even if they have low Beast Speech skill and just sound like growls to other players.

First, I’ve sped up how quickly you learn Beast Speech, so this isn’t even an issue for as long. (It was never supposed to take too long.) But eventually I’d like to get it so that other Werewolves always understand each other (and other Cows understand each other, etc.) When I do that, I’ll also have the tech for racial languages.

At this point, racial languages don’t make sense to add, because they divide players up rather than helping them communicate. But nevertheless, elven players have expressed interest in being able to speak Elvish. Maybe if I can think of a clever way to use the idea… any thoughts?

(But if Elves get Elvish and Rakshasa get Rak, what do Humans get? It’s assumed the default language is the Human language. So do Human players just not get a special language? Well, I could always give them an alternate human language. Say, French! Heh.)

Anyway, things are still chugging along. I’m hoping to start drumming up some more playtesters soon… in fact, I was going to do that today, but decided I needed to figure out the web player issues first.

A content update is in the works, with some new armor appearances, quests, dungeon areas, and more, so stay tuned!

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25 Responses to Grab Bag Update: Web Player, Skill Swapping, Languages

  1. Espoire says:

    Je, pour un, aime l’idee pour les hommes parler Francais.

  2. Gondal says:

    Eric,

    please do not wowify your game! The To Do list would be ok for the starting town so new players get some help. But please don’t make the game so it takes the player by the hand. No golden exclamation mark floating over quest givers ;p
    Maybe give some more hints in the quest description so players get a clue where he can find the quest objectives (personally, I still haven’t found the 12 myconians I have to kill for the shroom guy).

    Please leave the skill changing options it is right now because it allows a much higher flexibility in gameplay.
    For instance, I one hit goblins with my sword skill. It gets boring. Ok, lets try another skill which wasn’t raised so much. I a blink I could swith to staff fighting. As the skill is still low level for me it gets harder to kill the goblins.
    Or you find a pretty sweet item, but it requires psycology… You swap on the fly to that skill and have fun with the new imba item.
    If you would have to go to a changing station or wait a certain time to change skills, the excitment about the new item would disappear as you can not equip it right away.

  3. Tiber says:

    A to-do list doesn’t have to mean hand-holding. Eric could just have a few obvious tasks filled out, and have the rest be a bunch of question marks that only get filled out once the tasks are completed. If he wants to go further, he can make it like a quest log that records hints as players learn something or go somewhere.

  4. Zubon says:

    Tiber’s idea is sound. You want an indicator not there is more, not what the “more” is. Alternate implementations include a countdown like “15 hidden items remain.” For even less hand-holding, have a checklist item like “discover hidden content” (or areas, quests, monsters, etc.); that could be frustrating if it never went away, so it should have a trigger for “complete,” presumably that original countdown I suggested, or else players again will get the idea that they have found everything.

  5. Rolan Storm says:

    - Unity Web Player Performance Sucks
    Yeah, it does. It will be great to have stand-alone client to play.

    - More Direction Tools
    The question is ‘why’. If you want to attract more new generation players and make life a little more familiar to them – fine. Otherwise oldschool guys don’t need it. Your game is encouraging to poke around as it is. Still in cow form, by the way. Because I’ve got too long of a nose.

    To think jumping off the train and doing stuff around is real relief. Old habits just kick in and you crawling around watching environment for every little detail.

    Racial Languages
    Well, that could be human. Yes, human language. Other then that language can be named after country humans reside in and same could be done with elvish. Why it should be elvish? There was Silvanesti and Qualinesti (if I’m typing those right) in fantasy, why don’t come up with some names for languages? As for communication… Yes, obviously you are right, but languages makes things much more fun. “Moo… Moo… Moo, I say!” :) Remember? Same with cow in your game. Thing is it adds to challenge level enough to get things interesting, but not boring. After all nothing stop you from introducing some kind of common language, like trade language or something (please don’t name is common? :) ).

  6. Richard N says:

    It would be fun and frustrating to try and talk to a fellow cow with “Moo” as the only word choice. Maybe Beast Speech determines the dictionary players can use when communicating. A brand new cow can only say “Moo” but as they gain skill they can say words like “Chew”, “Grass”, “Cud”, “Farmer” and “Field”. At some point, they can the entire dictionary and communicate complex philosophical concepts. Werewolves can howl, bark and snarl and then gain words like “Hungry”, “Delicious” and “Sheep” until they have enough skill. I suppose it might be hard to communicate with dialogue like “Growl Moon Moon Hungry Growl Snap”. Back at Uni we learned the Ook programming language designed to teach programming to orangutans.

  7. kdansky says:

    I’m not sure I agree with “it’s too early for a patcher”. Consider Minecraft: It had a patcher as far as I remember. It’s really not too hard to write that, and it saves you so many bloody hours fiddling with downloads, versions and of course hassle on the user side.

  8. Ken says:

    The CDN server is not updated, it is taking a lot time to download the client data again (here in Canada).

    I would be happy to have a downloaded client and download a patch manually. That would take less time to get in. And, eventually you could update the client to patch itself I suspect.

  9. Austin says:

    I would probably play more if there was a stand-alone client. Right now logging in is kind of a chore because of the loading and what not.

  10. Lolin says:

    arg, I just wrote a long comment and it didn’t take.

  11. Lolin says:

    Only problem I have in PC Chrome is the initial load. If we switch to a client where we have to self load the updates I will need my hand held the first few times.
    I have tried to load on my Macbook Air without success but it may not be powerful enough. If I turn on Fraps I can see my frame rate and report it in the in game bug thing. But I have no idea what rates are good or bad. WOW-type players are used to skills getting changed on a regular basis as part of an ongoing effort to level the playing field. Keeping our skills basic should mean that this will not have to happen often. However, in Alpha I would certainly expect it! (I will advocate for the cows! Make us stronger! Let us see the armor we are wearing! I agree about them not getting skills that require having to hold an item. But make cow as interesting as werewolf, even if its in a more dorky way. )
    SKILL BARS! please let me move my skills around on them. I am a visual thinker and need to be able to see on my screen where the skills are on my game pad. Plus, having a second lower left bar is a thousand times more useful than any side bar. Any thought to charging and pulling skills? Amazingly, I have even more questions here: http://stratics.com/community/threads/citan.297211/#post-2262728

  12. Rauxis says:

    Humans are great learners, so they are able to learn one foreign language of their choice – though they’ll always speak it at a maximum value lower than native speakers

    Rauxis, chosen of CAT

  13. Cenan says:

    Suckage of the Unity player aside. I disagree on the skills aspect.

    For instance, a player might have a goal like this:
    “I wish to change my hotbar-1 to Skill-X”

    Pre-patch the workflow looked like this:
    1. Click staff icon -> get served a blank skill window with skills in the left pane.
    2. Click a skill (may involve scrolling) -> right pane is filled out with info about selected skill.
    3. Click “choose abilities” button (more scrolling) -> get served a new window.
    4. Click the little radio button for hotbar-1 over Skill-X -> hotbar-1 has now changed

    Point 3 is my gripe. This new window was not (and still isn’t) accessible from anywhere but that button. Said button may or may not be visible, depending on your resolution. My Unity defaults to 800×600 resolution, making that button not visible when the right-side pane is filled, I’d have to scroll to see it.

    All in all the skills weren’t hard to switch due to some game rule or a new and fun mechanic, but because the UI was working against the player. Putting in a quick way to switch does, in my opinion, not constitute “the other end of the spectrum”. Rather it is the way users would reasonably expect the UI to work.

    For changing individual hotkeys, nothing has changed. You still have to trek trough the menus before finally being allowed to drag the desired skill down to the hotbar, and you *have* to drag, because the game naturally doesn’t know where you want the ability to end up.
    And there is no way to manipulate what goes on your general hotbar on the left side, unless you select a random skill and scroll to the bottom of the “choose abilities” window. This is very counter-intuitive.
    A better design would have a short-cut like the skill switcher, that allows you to select individual abilities based on what is on the hotbar at the given time.

    You could always debate whether or not it should be that easy to switch skills, but never let the UI decide. IF something is hard to accomplish solely based on the UI, the UI is wrong. At least that’s what my users tell me when I implement a new feature at work, and I’m inclined to think they’re right.

  14. Eric Heimburg says:

    Cenan – you never found the Abilities under the Persona button then, I take it… The Choose Abilities button on the Skills window was added as a convenience quick link, its not the only — or intended to be the main — way to pick abilities. Do the tabs on the Persona menu not fit on your screen?

  15. Lolin says:

    I just found the tab on the persona bar yesterday actually. My concern is that I want to be able put all my attack skills and spore bomb on bar 1, my short buffs, heals and potions on a second bar directly under the first bar so it visually corresponds with my game pad. I realize we don’t want to be able to use more than two skill sets but I have to have things really simple to be effective. I am not going to remember what each skill stats are etc. If that would take a total recoding, I might be able to make it work by simply having the choice of placing skill bar 2 under skill bar 1. But then hitting spore bomb is clumsy. I really really really want all my attacks together. I want a set way of pushing buttons. I want to be able to always have my stun under my pinky which I suppose means having the capability of setting up multiple configurations.

  16. Cenan says:

    Eric – no I never found it, though that might be because, to me, persona doesn’t really have much to do with skills. Persona is where I would expect to find stuff about my character, such as stats, equipment and a picture :)

    The window fits fine on the screen, even in the default resolution, although that is beside the point i was trying to make. With a bad example I guess, serves me right for posting with an example taken from memory (was at work). The point was more clearly put:

    1. If you want skill/ability switching to be hard, make it hard via the game mechanics.
    2. If you want skill/ability switching to be easy, make it easy via the UI.

    Pre-patch we had a sort of middle ground, where switching was easy, as seen from the game engine, but hard as seen by a user. This in turn is (probably) why you see many players never using any other skills than their default allotment.

    That and the fact that you can get by for a very very long time just using your default sword. The game doesn’t exactly encourage you to switch. There are no quests or favors you can do that “requires” you to switch.
    Marla could just as easily require you to bomb 10 deer instead of straight killing them. And in that process, a player might accidently level their Battle Chemestry and see “hey! this is kinda cool too”.

  17. Epineurien says:

    More Direction Tools

    If you wish to only tell the player that “there is something to do here”, there is no need to tell them more.

    For each zone, add a clearly visible number in the UI telling how many ‘secret / mystery / fun things’ the player already found. Just having a big ’0′ on their map will push player to search a way to ‘increase the score’.

    You don’t even need (shouldn’t, in fact) tell them how many total secrets there is in a given zone. This should encourage exchange between explorer, trying to determine how many (and what) secret each zone have – and could lead to ‘funny’ rumors/pranks (like ‘Sitting during 10 hours under a random tree that change everyday’ or ‘Killing 120 zombies with a shovel’) as you wouldn’t even have to give any hints about the exact nature of the secrets.

  18. Jason says:

    Personally (and as a game designer) I prefer something letting me know there is a quest given from the npc. It doesn’t have to say what quest and I certainly don’t want the quest (once acquired) to tell me where to go and what specifically to do.

    As a player I like to explore but I get frustrated having to greet (and re-greet, and re-re-greet, and re-re-re— you get my point!) NPCs every time something occurs.

    As a game designer I want players to experience my content. Sometimes we have a tendency to apply constraints to quests that are too restrictive and then very few people ever experience the content we’ve put hard work into. You want to appeal to a larger percentage of your player-base, especially if you are already limiting your player-base.

  19. Ken says:

    Is that Jason Appleton from Greed Monger?

  20. Jason says:

    Ken, sorry no.

  21. ken says:

    Oh ok. Timing was interesting, I had mentioned the Gorgon Twitter feed to his PR guy for #FF hehe.

  22. Rakai says:

    Not sure where else to post/comment, but when I was playing my power went out, shutting my computer down instantly, now I can’t login because it says my character is still logged in.

    Loving this game by the way.

  23. Rakai says:

    Scratch that, it finally let me in.

  24. Cyberkiller says:

    Please get a standalone client up.

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