AC2 Returns?!

Wow. AC2 is returning, if you have an active paid AC1 subscription. The client download is going very slowly for me, so will probably be a day until I get in, but this is pretty cool news. Time to see if my memories of the game are anywhere close to reality!

Posted in News | 2 Comments

Taunting, Mentalism, and Variety

Still working on what I’ve been working on… lots of stumbling blocks this week that made me glad I’m bald so I don’t pull out my hair in frustration. But these things happen sometimes, and rather than bore you with those details, let’s look at some of the other systems I’ve been adding over the past month.

Taunting and Aggro

I want pets to be able to grab aggro for their owners — at least, some pets would do that, depending on their genes and temperament — but in order to do that, I need a more robust aggro system.

The old mechanics: In pre-alpha 2, monsters hated you based on how much damage you did. Do 10 damage, they hate you 10. Plus, every few seconds, they hate you a little more, just because you’re a jerk. If you got too far away from the monster, or the monster got too far away from its home, then its hatred started dramatically depleting, and when it didn’t hate you anymore, it would go home.

(Note that this is completely different from Rage — that’s the thing that lets monsters use their best attacks. For some reason it never occurred to me how confusing it would be to have systems called “Rage” and “Hate” at the same time. So I’m trying to retcon “Hate” into “aggro”, but in my head I’m still calling it “hate”, so bear with me.)

The new mechanics: I just added a few new things on to the old mechanics. Now some abilities can do more or less hate… err, aggro … instead of being tied directly to how much damage is done.

In addition, abilities can do “temporary aggro”, which is like regular aggro, but wears off very quickly — it has a half-life of about 3 seconds. I use “temporary aggro” to do taunts that pull monsters off of others — for a few seconds, the monster suddenly thinks you did 1,000 extra damage to it, so it will turn and fight you. But after a few seconds that 1000 becomes 500, then 250, then 125, and then the monster might decide it hates somebody else instead, and turn away from you.

It’s actually possible with these rules to get a monster stuck in an “aggro hell”, where they change aggro targets so often that they spend most of their time running around instead of attacking. In some games that would be an exploit, but it shouldn’t be a big deal in Gorgon, because group combats involve a lot of enemies. If you have the personal concentration to bounce a monster back and forth between a buddy while simultaneously fighting another monster, congrats, you’re awesome. (I might make an exception for boss monsters… we’ll see.)

De-Aggro as Crowd Control

This system also gives us the ability to have the classic “de-taunt” power. All we do is have certain attacks deal negative aggro. Combat Psychologists have a new ability, Smooth Talk, that does this. It causes monsters to forget 50 points of aggro. And what happens if the aggro goes negative? Well, if there’s any other target for it to attack (like a pet or an ally) it will switch to them. But if you’re just out on your own, it still keeps attacking you. It says “Hmm, the person I hate the most is Bob, with an aggro of -30. Let’s kill Bob!” This is how it’s usually done in MMOs.

But that wasn’t very fun, so instead, if your aggro goes negative and it can’t find anybody else to kill, it will just give up and go home. (Or if it’s already at its home spot, it will just stand there looking at you, slowly building up hate again, until its aggro is positive.)

It’s a fun ability to play around with — handy for getting out of scrapes while soloing, especially — but I may end up moving it out of Combat Psychology. That skill already have a lot of crowd-control powers that are better than this one, so this might get lost in the crowd. It might be a fun ability to give to the Mentalist instead. Oh, speaking of which…

The Mentalist

I decided to add the Mentalist skill to the next pre-alpha playtest. It wasn’t scheduled to go in yet, but I’m adding it ahead of schedule for two reasons: first, I already had all the tech it needs, and second, I wanted to have another non-weapon combat skill available. It gives you lots more options, especially if you have hooves or claws for hands. There need to be enough options that you actually have some interesting choices to experiment with! Otherwise, I won’t be able to gather feedback on how you experiment with them.

The mentalist is a support role with a bunch of area-effect buffs that can be applied to the whole group. Every twenty seconds, Mentalists can start one of their AoE abilities: Regenerate Health, Regenerate Armor, Regenerate Power, or Boost Damage. These abilities last for 60 seconds, but you can start them every 20 seconds… which means you can have up to three of them going at once, if you’re careful with the timing. You can use the same power three times in a row (they stack), or you can mix and match depending on circumstances. I wanted this mechanic to work kinda like the EQ1 bard’s “song spinning” mechanic (but a little less spammy).

The Mentalist also has several attack powers, focusing on damage-over-time abilities. These powers are pretty mediocre at killing things (because they take so long), but they each have additional perks that last for as long as they’re running. For instance, “Mind Gnaw” causes constant Psychic damage, and also has a chance to make the monster lose all its built-up Rage. “Agitate” does Electricity damage, and if the monster’s armor is not yet depleted, there’s a small chance each second that the monster will become Stunned. “Mind Rend” is the most devastating of their arsenal: it does constant Psychic damage, and if the target is sentient and alive (ie not undead, an animal, or a construct), there’s a small chance every second that it will have a stroke and die instantly.

You probably wouldn’t use Mentalism as your primary combat skill, because the damage-over-time abilities take too long by themselves. But it makes a good second skill, especially in a group. (Remember that players can have two combat skills active at a time.)

Combining Mentalism

Mentalism is designed to pair up especially well with Unarmed. Both skills get buffs from practicing Meditation, and their abilities complement each other well. For instance, Mentalism can stun people when their armor isn’t depleted yet; Unarmed can stun people when their armor is depleted. Having two skills that can stun the same enemy is very powerful.

But there are lots of other potential pairings. Mentalism goes pretty well with Fire Magic: they are both ranged DoT skills, and Fire Mages always need tons of Power… which Mentalists happen to be able to provide.

On the other hand, if you want to be a more “group support” role you can combine Mentalism with Battle Chemistry or Combat Psychology. That would give you a lot of different support powers… and the weird thing is, right now, I really can’t tell if those pairings will be fun or if they’ll be too scattered and messy. We’ll see during playtesting!

On “Pure” Roles

The Mentalist’s powers are half about healing and half about damage. A high-level Battle Chemist can also be half-healing and half-damage. Even if you use both of them together, you’re still not a pure healer. That’s intentional.

I don’t want there to be “pure” healer roles (or “pure” tank roles, for that matter) for a bunch of reasons, the most prominent being a very pragmatic one: it’s an indie game and who knows how many people will be playing? I can’t afford for people to be saying “We can’t do this dungeon because we can’t find a healer.” There may not be any healers online anywhere. (This is also why the standard group size is three: to make it easy to get a group going even if the population turns out to be very small.)

But on the other hand, I don’t want to swing the pendulum too far the other way, like Diablo3 does, where everybody is basically just a damage-dealer. I want there to be lots of room for lots of different roles, and I want them to vary depending on what dungeon you’re in. Okay, yeah, maybe there will be dungeons where you really need a Fire Mage, because the place is full of Ice Golems. So sometimes a role or two might feel mandatory. But they’ll change around, not always the same things over and over. And you, the player, can change around your skills, too, so that if you’re in a group whose skills really don’t gel together, you can adjust to fit.

This is a difficult thing for players to get their heads around, which means I’ll need to spend more time making it intuitive. It’s also harder for me to make the combat work well, so that the monster roles are fun and diverse, and combat is the perfect blend of chaos and strategy.

Not an easy design. Largely because it’s not like anything else I can steal the design from. But that’s still my plan, and I’ve got a bunch more play-tests to experiment with the idea and try to make it work. So we’ll see how it goes!

If all else fails, I can fall back to the more tried-and-true combat roles, I guess — that would just mean that if you get in a group without a tank, somebody would need to switch their skills to tanking. But using those fixed roles would also take a lot of the variability out of group combat.

And variation is really important. A lot of my expected player-base will be veteran MMO players. If they’ve spent the past 3 years as a Priest in WoW dungeons, I don’t want to subject them to another few years of staring intently at little health bars 24/7. A veteran MMO player needs a game that changes things up a lot. Otherwise they burn out.

MMO players seem to burn out of the entire genre at an alarming rate. The only other genre I can think of with such high rates of players vocally abandoning the entire genre would be Facebook games. Which points out some uncomfortable similarities between the two. One of which is that they lack diversity. You can only do the same exact thing for so many years before you’re going to have to call it quits.

So while this is a classic MMO, I really want the game to have lots of fresh experiences, both to soloers and to group combat. New skills for people to learn; new strategies to invent; new stuff to do!

I think I have a handle on making the solo experience fresh and diverse. Making group combat successfully diverse is going to be harder, but worth it if I can pull it off!

Hmm, this post is pretty long. I’ll ramble about some more topics later!

Posted in Project Gorgon | 8 Comments

Death Penalties, Quick Follow-up

Thanks for all the death-penalty feedback from the last post! I’ve decided to heed a couple of suggestions:

  • I’m removing the XP rewards, so now there’s no tangible benefit to being Hardcore. That removes any chance of people perceiving Hardcore mode as “mandatory” (in order to be optimal). I’ll still add rewards, but they’ll be in the form of unique weapon and armor appearances — so you can show off, but you won’t be able to level faster.
  • I’m dropping Casual. It’s too stigmatized a label, and the Normal death penalty is already the industry standard “casual” death penalty.
  • For the pre-alpha, I’m going to KISS — keep it simple, stupid — and just implement one new death mode, so there’ll be Normal and Hardcore. Hardcore is where you drop 25% of your items on death. I’ll see what people think of that and then decide if we need more tiers.
  • I’ll eventually add Perma-death, too, for the insanest of the insane players — but I don’t really want people playing perma-death characters during a pre-alpha. It doesn’t really help me get feedback if you’re constantly dying and restarting at level 1!

Thanks again, and if you have more thoughts feel free to share them, here or on the previous post. I’m still readin’.

Status Update: Targeting

One of the big complaints in the last test was that it was hard to target some creatures. This turned out to be a whole bunch of issues, and it’s taken a long time to get everything working well. But it’s in pretty good shape now — you can click on things to select them now, just like you’d expect. You can even click on them if they’re dead! Fancy, I know.

I also made the mouse cursor change into a hand when you’re over something you can interact with (in addition to the “highlighted” graphical effect on the item itself). Finally, I’ve been experimenting with new selection indicators. Here’s what I’ve got at the moment, a sort of full-body wrap around the selected item:

Still experimenting with all that.

Status Update: New Skills

I really need to improve group combat mechanics, but it’s really hard for me to test that right now, because I don’t have people I can jump in and playtest with. So I’m going to do lots of the group-combat development during the pre-alpha, where I can playtest and iterate each day after getting feedback. In the mean time, I’m adding a bunch more skills and systems, because those are much easier to test on my own.

I’ve added Skinning (which works about like you’d expect: skin a corpse, get a skin), and am working on Tanning. I also have Leathercrafting and Leather Enchanting in various states of construction. For the next pre-alpha, I’m hoping you’ll be able to craft and enchant leather armor, from start to finish. Lots more content is needed before that’s possible, though, so we’ll see how far I get.

The most complex new game system for pre-alpha 3 is Animal Taming and the related skills of Animal Husbandry and Genetics. I’m still neck-deep in genes at the moment, trying to figure out how to make an easy-to-understand genetics system that lets players really have fun breeding and selling unique combat pets. This is not as easy as it sounds. Most games’ “breeding” systems are opaque — you can’t really understand what the hell is going on when you breed two pets together. That’s because it’s very hand-wavy: they just roll some dice behind the scenes. I don’t want hand-wavy! I want expert geneticists to be able to see exactly how each gene is set, and what it means!

Of course, husbandry is only half the equation — the other half being the actual combat with your pets. So there’s lots of complexity that I have to chew up into simple chunks.

I’m doing some more prototyping this week, and will post more about animal taming soon!

Posted in Project Gorgon | 12 Comments

Prealpha 3′s Death Penalties

As I mentioned earlier, I want to experiment with variable death penalties, where players can choose how punitive they want it to be. This lets players who want a “scarier” game have one, without forcing it on people. I don’t expect most players to use these harsher death penalties (I probably won’t myself!), but I think a fair number of people would like this feature, based on comments from earlier blog posts.

There are rewards for choosing to make it more punitive, but the rewards aren’t intended to fully compensate for the penalty (otherwise that would become the “right” way to play and people would feel pushed into doing it). Instead, the rewards are just a perk. The real point is that the game is more dangerous for you, so you aren’t bored. And also bragging rights: your death penalty will show up when people view you.

So I brainstormed a list and I’m going to implement them for the next pre alpha. To make it easy to test them, you’ll be able to change your death penalty in town at any time, for free. (But in the final game, switching involves a quest of some sort, probably on a timer.)

The problem is, I have too many penalties! I don’t want to overwhelm people with choices; I think 4 is the max. So here’s my list, but note that I don’t have room for all of them. What do you think of these, and would you use any of them?

Normal Penalty: when you die, you are sent back to the zone’s graveyard.

Casual Mode: when you die, if it’s your first death in an hour, you respawn right where you were. If you’ve already died too recently, you are sent back to the zone’s graveyard like normal. You earn -10% XP from killing monsters.

Hardcore Mode: when you die, you are sent back to the zone’s graveyard. Approximately 25% of your belongings don’t come with you, however. They remain in a special box at the scene of your death. If you click the box within the next 2-3 hours, you get your stuff back. You earn +5% XP from killing monsters.

Extreme Mode: when you die, ALL of your stuff goes into a box at your death site, and you are sent back to the graveyard. You earn +8% XP from killing monsters.

Ultra-Extreme Mode: when you die, all your stuff goes into a box, PLUS one of your active combat skills is permanently lowered by 1-10 points (randomly chosen). You earn +12% XP from killing monsters.

PermaDeath Mode: when you die, you can’t respawn. Your items explode out in a shower so that other people nearby can pick them up. You can continue to log in and chat as a corpse (useful for e.g. organizing guild transitions), but you’ll always remain a corpse at the spot you died. (With possible “bribery option”: I will un-die you if you send me $50 via PayPal. Your stuff will still be gone, though.) You earn +15% XP from killing monsters.

So there you have it. Way too many options, got to remove 2 or 3 of these. What are your thoughts?

 

 

 

Posted in Project Gorgon | 30 Comments

Gorgon Chat Logs, pt 2, and Status Update

Player 1> is there any way to link items in chat?
Player 2> not yet... and i dont know if the unity engine is able to do that

It surprised me how often this idea came up — the idea that the Unity engine would limit what the game can do. Actually, Unity only handles the graphics and the physics. Everything else is coded by me. The inventory system (and even the concept of items), chatting, combat, everything.

So when it comes to game systems, there aren’t a lot of inherent limitations, except for the amount of time I have to code! (And yeah, there will definitely be a way to link items in chat eventually.)

> I like with deer how I can switch out whenever I want
> you can? you don't have to spend 3k gold?
> Well gold doesnt really matter to me at least. I have 40k right now
> man, you guys play harder than I do.
> One-hitting Goblin boss has its perks

There were some test items that let you turn into pigs and deer (which are curses from much later in the game). The items could be expensive, but there were lots of ways to break the economy and get a ton of money, which made testing these curses much easier.

I didn’t hear much about whether the deer and pig were viable combatants, though. Anybody who tried it want to comment? I’m guessing deer were so-so. Deer have a lot of abilities with “Kick” in the description, which means unarmed jewelry that boosts Kicks would also help deer. So I think they could do decent damage with the right stuff. (Plus, who doesn’t like the mental image of deer decked out in gaudy magical jewelry?)

I suspect Pigs are kind of screwed though. They have some nice foraging abilities, but their best combat ability is Piggy Dash — it lets them flee in terror faster.

> I'm seeing hygiene bonuses on gear. have no idea what that does

It wasn’t implemented yet, so in the last test, Hygiene Boost items did nada. But I’ll implement it soon! Hygiene will affect your interaction with NPCs, so if you have really low hygiene you might have lowered vendor prices and so on, but for the most part, hygiene is mainly important to elf characters, who are obsessive about cleanliness. Getting a lot of combat gore on you will lower your hygiene to the point where it distracts you, giving you small combat penalties. There are lots of ways to get clean again, though. Jumping in some water is the easiest, and higher-level elves have cleaning spells. And, of course, some items make it easier to stay clean.

Hygiene is just one of several race-specific systems that will be in the final game. I struggled with different ways to make humans, elves, and rakshasa different, but the usual tricks didn’t work very well: stuff like boosting a skill by 5 points or whatever — it was either so shallow as to be completely meaningless, or so important as to be game-defining. Gorgon is all about game mechanics, so that’s what I eventually settled on.

Individual game mechanics like hygiene just seem silly, and rightly so. But you get a few of them together and it can really help make a race come to life. I hope. We’ll see. Like all game mechanics, these will probably require some iteration and replacement over the coming year.

Status Update

I’m still way behind in replying to all the feedback and email. I suck at handling my email in a timely fashion and I’m sorry if you’re still waiting for a reply. I’m starting to get back into the swing of MMO coding now, though (after several weeks of exhaustion and then a slow pickup), and I answer email in between coding bursts, so I’ll get back to you eventually! Hopefully. If it’s time sensitive feel free to send email again.

On the art front, there seems to be some good news on the horizon! Been talking with Aaron Victoria from the Legends of Etherell indie MMO. They’ve got some amazing artists on board, but only a couple of part-time programmers, and after a switch from Torque to Unity, they don’t have a lot of code.

Hmm, they have a lot of art but not code, and I have a lot of code but not art. Seems like a trade would work here! And so we’re negotiating toward that idea. The trickiest part for me is that I don’t have a lot of time to help support another team all the time — if I have to do more than a couple of hours of tech support per week, it will really derail me. Eventually the game will have a “Gorgon Engine” that other people can use, but right now, what they’ll be getting is a “Gorgon Work In Progress With Some Pretty Shitty Parts Still”. But it’d still be a big jumpstart so they can focus on game mechanics instead of the low-level stuff like sockets, area-of-interest management, and so on.

So I’m optimistic we can make something work. And so are they — their character guy Will Barry is already modeling the first Gorgon player avatar, the female elf. Here’s a work in progress:

Oh, I should mention: here she’s wearing is the “skimpy in-town elven clothing”, plus some armor bits overlaid. Elves wear skimpy clothes in town, but in combat they wear protective armor, not metal bikinis. (Despite what the placeholder art in the pre-alpha looked like!)

This is a big step up in quality, and very exciting. Having better character avatars would really help the game a lot.

I’d also like their MMO to succeed for another reason: it’d be great to have other indie MMOs that I can partner up with, for things like cross-promotions or ad sharing. When you’re indies, pooling resources is a really big win. (The Humble Indie Bundle being a great example.)

It’s still early days, but I’m optimistic!

Posted in Project Gorgon | 8 Comments

Gorgon Chat Logs, pt 1

[You would not believe how much I've been sleeping this week. I'm still officially on vacation until next week, when I have to catch up on all the stuff that's been delayed a month for the Kickstarter. Oh boy! But I figured I'd talk a bit about what was learned from the pre-alpha test, by sharing some of the chat logs.]

On Tricky Quests

> Mmm after the kill 10 spiders quest ya get a kill 30 goblins quest… wish I’d known before I went all over killing those gobs.
> Bug that
> Bug it? Not a bug just the order of the quests
> That type of quest is what is wrong with questing

 

Lots of people had a similar reaction to this. Which is a totally fair complaint, on the face of it. But there’s a twist: I made this quest inconvenient on purpose. And I made it require far more monster-kills than any other quest in the pre-alpha, in order to get players to consider not doing it.

The NPC who gives that quest has two talk options. You can say “30 goblins? You got it!” or “why do you want them killed?” And if you follow the latter all the way through, you talk her out of wanting those goblins killed, and you get a big XP reward to Psychology instead.

Very few people opted to talk the NPC out of her insane request. That means that if I want to have these sort of “hidden options” in dialog trees, I’ll have to work a whole lot harder. And … it probably shows that it’s not worth the effort to hide quest alternatives in talk trees. I’ll just let people do the damned quests.

Stability Problems

> Then after the 3rd time I was kicked to the loading screen I tried to log back in and got the old EQ message that I am already logged in
> didnt eric say it will be an old school game? ;)
> LOL’
> Didn’t understand that he mean an authentic recreation of the agony of trying to play an oldschool game when it was new with a bad connection.

 

Yeah, there’s been some server hiccups. :) Over the week, we fixed the majority of connectivity problems, but there are still some server crashes left. They’re caused by race conditions, where some threads get deadlocked somehow. In the last few days of the test, I added a ton of debug-logging to track the issue down, but unfortunately, the extra logging slowed the server down just enough that the bug didn’t happen anymore. We’ll get it all fixed eventually, though!

Cow Talk

> mooo mooo muuu
> mooooo
> grrr
> cant find muuu
> muuu
> muuuu
> milk
> lol moo
> Developers if you are on... m mo not like moo
(Translation: "Developers if you are on... i do not like you")

 

I expected that the constant moo-ing of cows would get old, but for me it never did. I found it hilarious right up until the end. Sorry to laugh at your suffering… but it was funny!

The good news is that it’s temporary — if you talk enough, you’ll raise your Beast Speech skill, which increases your chances of talking normally. When that skill is maxed out, there should be a 98% chance to say the right word instead of “moo”.

The bad news is that there was a bug that made it cap out at 85% instead of 98%. Oops! The difference between 85 and 98 might sound small, but in terms of being able to communicate easily it’s huge. It made being a long-term animal player much more annoying than intended. This bug is fixed for the next test.

Art History?

> Hey if you want to learn art history you have to kill the goblin boss in the dungeon and save the pixie

 

This (completely correct) sentence makes me happy for some reason I can’t quite elucidate. Something about having an art history skill in the game, I guess…

The quest they’re talking about wasn’t a “real” quest, though, which made it pretty confusing. It was implemented before the quest system existed, and it just uses some NPC state flags, not a real quest that shows up in your quest-log. That meant you could never really tell if you were “on” the quest or if you’d done it right, which led to a lot of confusion. I’ll try to get that fixed for the next time.

Insane Loot!

> Moo a purple helm to anyone who’s willing to mooo to the crypt area to pick it up

 

There were a ton of balance issues. For instance, a max-level Cow was dramatically more powerful than a max-level Werewolf. This was definitely not intentional. But the biggest problem was the treasure system.

Each of the many treasure buffs were supposed to only show up on specific slots. So you might find an helmet that’s “+30 damage to goblins”, but you wouldn’t also find shoes with that buff — it could only be found on helmets. However, all the powers could be found on  all slots, and they all stacked. So players who pulled enough items could increase their damage output by about 800% over what I intended. Which is high.

For the next test, I’ll be adding a bunch more treasure mods, and I’ll also lock them to specific equipment slots.

There were also about 5x more epic and rare items than would normally be in the game. I cranked it up because there was only a week of testing, and I wanted people to get good equipment quickly. We’ll probably leave that alone for the next test, since it’ll be time-limited also. This way, people will help spot serious imbalances quickly.

On the down side, some players complained that rare loot was so common that it felt boring. Those people are just whiners, though. Pay them no mind! (For now.)

[I'll be back later with more! Right now, it's time for another nap.]

Posted in Project Gorgon | 20 Comments

Kickstarter: The Missing FAQ

(Figured I’d write this up while it was still fresh in my head…)

If you’re doing a Kickstarter project, you’re going to run into weird issues, and none of them are going to be covered in Kickstarter’s FAQ. They seem to have removed anything even vaguely technical from their FAQ so that it doesn’t look scary. Sigh. Well, here’s some Q’s we had, along with their A’s. Hope it helps somebody get their dream funded!

Q: I embedded a movie in an update, but it doesn’t show up in the preview! It’s just a blank box! Will it really work if I send the update?

A: Yes. It will be shown embedded on your kickstarter updates webpage, and it will be sent as a plaintext link in the update email.

Q: How do I get the Rewards to be formatted well?

A: You don’t. It removes all formatting, even line breaks! This is why reward lists are always so hard to read on Kickstarter.

Q: The Kickstarter dashboard says most of my pledges are coming from email. But I didn’t send very many emails! WTF?

A: The problem is that you used a URL that ended in &from=email. Kickstarter tells you to “email your friends” and provides you with that link. It doesn’t explain that anything using that link will be treated as coming from email! Never use that for anything but email solicitations. For posting elsewhere on the web, just remove the &from=email part.

Tip: don’t make up other “from” values either! We figured our blog should have “from=blog”… well, that worked… but it was displayed as the Kickstarter blog, not our blog. This made the reports a bit confusing, because Kickstarter kept claiming credit for helping us get all those people from our own blog.

Just leave the “from” bit off entirely if you’re not sure. It will show the referring website’s URL by default (so our blog would have shown up as eldergame.com, which would have been fine).

Q: I’m setting up my project and I want to add FAQ questions to the project page, but I can’t figure out how!

A: You can’t add FAQ questions until your Kickstarter is live. Then there will be a link on the main page. (Not in the Edit area!)

However, in our experience, nobody reads the project FAQ — it’s too isolated and hard to find. So don’t expect that to be a main way to convey information.

If you need to add FAQ questions after you launch, you should also post them in an Update.

Q: Some people have cool shortened URLs that start with kck.st … how do I get a Kickstarter vanity URL?

A: Go to bit.ly and paste in your Kickstarter URL. The shortened URL you receive will automatically use the kck.st domain. (This same URL will also be used in automatic tweets and facebook posts that are sent out when people back your project.)

Q: Help! The text-box for Project Updates keeps locking up!

A: That’s because Kickstarter’s text-editor is really very bad. (But it’s not like that’s the most important part of the website or anything…) If your browser locks up, you’re pasting too much text into the Updates window at once. Instead, paste the text in small chunks, about three or four paragraphs at a time.

And no, there’s no way to retain your text’s formatting, you’ll have to reformat the text after you paste it in.

 

Posted in Business | Tagged | 2 Comments

Pre-Alpha Update: Tech notes, update notes, ramblings

Tech: Holding Up Well!

The pre-alpha is going well. We’re averaging about 3 people online at a time, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but given that it’s a limited-access, incredibly early, short duration test, it’s actually pretty great!

I’m not sure what the highest capacity has been, probably about 15 people — which unfortunately isn’t anywhere close to stressing the server’s load capacity — but it’s certainly found a lot of bugs and issues.

We’ve fixed the last known server crash bug, and the server has been stable with continuous players online for over 24 hours. (However, some players are reporting severe lag spikes — which looks like real-world internet lag, but it’s too early to tell for sure.)

So on that front, I’m pretty happy. When we combine this real-world testing with our load emulation, I’m confident that our server architecture will build out just fine. My biggest fear was that the server-side physics and pathfinding would be too slow, but it’s been fine, too.

This pre-alpha version is also the first one that isn’t built on top of SmartFoxServer. Instead, I wrote my own custom networking layer with the netty library. There were some early bugs as a result, but we got them under control pretty quickly, and the low-level stuff is now pretty awesome. I have to say that it’s a lot easier to add features onto our own custom architecture than it was to shoehorn them into SmartFoxServer’s architecture. Plus, it saves us thousands of dollars in licensing fees, too.

Anyway, there’s lots more tech development to come, but we’re more confident in the tech plan than ever before.

Feedback: Tons!

Thanks again to everybody that’s offered feedback! We’re still digging through it all. We’re fixing small bugs immediately, and recording the rest for later.

Your feedback has indicated that the newbie experience is working okay — if a bit ugly — and that you’re able to understand the basics of gameplay easily. My guess is that the newbie experience could even have a few more puzzles and things to discover, and it still wouldn’t be too overwhelming. (I feared that we had packed it as heavily as we could without blowing newbies’ minds, but ideally I’d like it to be a little denser.)

The biggest reported weakness is in group combat, which we already knew — it’s very chaotic and rough. And it’s been hard to spot real issues with the underlying combat mechanics (the roles, the abilities, the monsters, that sort of thing) because there are so many minor issues in the way, like a crappy HUD, difficulty targeting, and bugs that make monsters and abilities not work right.

So we’ve been focusing most heavily on group combat the past week, and ignoring crafting, puzzles, gathering, and quests. Please don’t think that’s indicative of the final game! It’s just that group combat needs the most help right now, and it’s easiest to test group-combat stuff while there are people online to try it out.

We’ve also gotten feedback that Gathering is boring — it’s a perfectly typical MMO gathering system, but it turns out that gathering is kind of boring in all MMOs. I agree with that sentiment. We’ll think about ways to make gathering more interesting in the future, without going overboard.

General Sentiment Seems Positive

Of course, the play-testers are a self-selected group of people: they’re people interested enough to pledge Kickstarter money! So they’re more inclined to like the game than an average person. But even so, most players seem to be having a good time — or at least not a bad time. Given the early state of the game, that’s good news, too!

A bunch of people sent feedback saying that they were impressed with the game. Reading between the lines, I think a lot of people were saying “whoa, this is actually a real game,” as opposed to a vaporware idea. Which is great!

Kickstarter Failure: A Setback, Not Death

There’s a long way to go, and without the Kickstarter money, the road is even longer. Some people have suggested we set up a PayPal pledge system instead, and we’re considering that and other possibilities.

A few people have also volunteered some assets and resources, and that could end up helping a lot, as well.

But in any case, our original timeline is probably impossible now… especially if we have to stop for a while and gather more money. So yeah, this setback sucks. But it doesn’t mean we’re throwing in the towel. We’ll find a way to get this game finished!

Lessons from Kickstarter

Doing a Kickstarter for the game has had two big hurdles. The #1 complaint we heard was “wow, this game is ugly.” We saw that on forums and blogs all across the net. And someone would always pipe in “well, that’s why they’re doing a Kickstarter,” but it’s really hard to fight that first impression. Gamers aren’t game developers, and they don’t know whether a game is going to be fun or not, so they use graphics quality as a shorthand. That’s why every big company hires an artist before they hire any engineers — and it’s why so many game trailers are just cut-scenes instead of gameplay footage. That shit works.

We understood this on some level, of course, but I think we were blinded by our experience in the MMO niche. We know that making an MMO is incredibly hard, and we hoped that by showing people we’d already done the hardest parts, that would help sell it. And it probably did, but only to people who got past the ugly screen shots.

If I was going to do a Kickstarter again I’d spend a lot more time getting screen shots that were as flattering as possible. I’d also approach the Kickstarter “risks and dangers” section less seriously. Instead of an actual analysis of possible risks, I’d put in the usual BS about “the biggest risk is that we make a game that’s too fucking awesome and the internet explodes.” It was incredibly frustrating to see bloggers freaking out about all our risks and assuming we wouldn’t make it because it was so risky. Our risks are incredibly small, especially compared to other ambitious games on Kickstarter. But the problem is that nobody else on Kickstarter is being realistic with their risk assessment section. So we shouldn’t have either.

Kickstarter is supposed to be a funding system, but that doesn’t mean you should approach it like a pitch you’d make to an investor or a publisher. It’s actually a hype machine, so you need to put your prettiest face forward, not admit to any weakness, and use a lot of exclamation marks. We’ll know better next time.

The Missing Killer Feature

The other big problem wasn’t due to the nature of Kickstarter. It’s that we don’t have a killer feature that instantly stands out and sells the game for us. Is our game different and fresh? Yes! I think people who played it could see some of that. But it’s really hard to explain how it’s different, especially to people who never played an MMO before World of Warcraft.

I don’t know how to solve that. And it will be a problem going forward, because if we can’t pitch the game in a few sentences, how are we going to advertise it?

The Future

Anyway, it’s been tough. I’m frustrated, as I’m sure you can tell. But I’m also extremely happy that almost 300 people were interested enough to pledge their hard-earned money. You guys are amazing and I’m really thankful for your support!

Going forward, the pre-alpha will keep running until some time on Monday, with updates each day. We’re going to keep focusing on group combat, plus a smattering of new recipes and quests. We decided not to put Necromancy into the game, because it’s still pretty buggy… we’d rather focus on getting what’s already there working a bit better. (So if you find an item that requires Necromancy, you might as well toss it. Sorry about that!)

If you have a chance to play, we really love getting feedback about your play experience, both good and bad! You can use the in-game feedback tool to send us anything, or post here, or send us Kickstarter mail, or whatever. Thanks!

Posted in Project Gorgon | 26 Comments

Designing Project: Gorgon’s combat sounds

[ This guest post is by Conor Brace, the sound/music expert for Project: Gorgon. Thanks, Conor! ]

Designing Project: Gorgon’s combat sounds

When Eric and I started discussing combat sound effects for Project: Gorgon, it was clear that we wanted to emphasize two things: the game’s huge diversity of skills, and its unusual armor/health mechanic. I would first establish a cohesive audio style for each skill set, and then put together unique sounds for each individual ability, with armor and health variations when appropriate.

But I had a TON of questions. Not all the combat skills were implemented in-game, and those that were had limited animations. I needed more details!

Take the Sword combat skill, for example. Should it feel defensive or aggressive? Fast or slow? Brutish or refined? Should the player feel more like Zorro, or more like Gregor Clegane?

At a lower level, how do the individual abilities work in practice? What role does each ability play? Which can be spammed? Which deviate from the overall combat style? Which are the most satisfying to use?

Currently we have unique sound sets for nine combat skills — Animal Handling, Battle Chemistry, Combat Psychology, Fire Magic, Necromancy, Staff, Sword, Unarmed, and Werewolf — and we had an in-depth discussion about every one of them.  Not every question had a 100% clear answer, but the process was very useful in helping me tailor sounds to fit Eric’s design.

(And I know Eric answered one or two of my questions by making a decision on the spot, so hopefully he got something useful out of the process as well!)

Let’s get back to Sword combat. In Project: Gorgon, the Sword is a balanced weapon that’s equally useful against armored and unarmored targets, and is especially good at controlling the enemy’s Rage. (Enemies need a full Rage bar to perform their most dangerous attacks.) Eric confirmed that it should feel a bit like fencing — more agility than strength, with a sense of finesse.  In audio terms, this led me toward quick swishes and sharp, high-pitched impacts.

Looking at the individual abilities, there are two strong openers (#2 Many Cuts, #4 Wind Strike), a weak but efficient filler attack (#1 Sword Slash), a defensive ability (#3 Parry), and a brutal finisher (#5 Finishing Blow).

In other words, a full Sword rotation should feel like WHAM-BAM, steady, steady, steady, KAPOOOOW! :) Here’s my audio contribution:

Audio example: Wind Strike (armor), Many Cuts (armor), Sword Slash (armor), Parry, Sword Slash (health), Finishing Blow (health).

How about the Unarmed combat skill? Gorgon’s hand-to-hand combat is inspired by highly disciplined martial arts. It’s an extremely power-efficient skill, and although not terribly lethal at first, you can meditate to unlock combos that make it more dangerous.

It’s also more effective against unarmored targets, as the sound effects help demonstrate:

Audio example: Punch, Kick, Cobra Strike versus Armor.

Audio example: Punch, Kick, Cobra Strike versus Health.

(We also decided that it should sound a bit like an old kung-fu flick!)

Finally, here’s one more audio sequence in honor of Halloween. You’ll hear four Necromancy abilities: 1) a dark magic attack with a treasure system mod that roots the target, 2) raising a skeleton from a tomb, 3) healing your undead minions, and 4) healing yourself. I used a synth choir as a component in many of Gorgon’s healing sounds — usually a pleasant effect, but here it’s dark and haunting.  (Necromancers regain health by devouring raw hearts!)

Audio example: Life Crush with Grasping Dead mod, Raise Skeleton, Heal Undead, Heart’s Power.

Thanks to Eric for having me on the blog, and thanks to all of you for supporting Project: Gorgon!

Posted in Project Gorgon | 4 Comments

Pre-Alpha’s Getting Better (every day)

Things are looking a bit grim for the Kickstarter… that’s a big number to earn and only a few more days. But we’re doing all we can on that front — and it takes a lot of time, but the thing that’s keeping us up until the wee hours of each morning is working on the pre-alpha.

With the influx of players, we’ve been able to find a bunch of tech issues, content bugs, and stuff that was just really confusing. This stream of data is really valuable, and we’re trying to make the most of it! So far we’ve done at least one game patch each day, and we’ve tackled over a hundred bugs, big and small. Like I said, really productive! (Also incredibly tiring, but them’s the breaks.)

This morning’s version added access to another skill, Staff Fighting, and introduced more tigers (they’re needed for an early quest, but were accidentally quite rare). The temporary werewolf quest was added yesterday, but so far I don’t believe anyone’s achieved lycanthropy… so the title of “first werewolf” is still up for grabs! :)

In addition to more bug fixes, we also have some more skills, monsters, and quests that we’ll be fixing up and tossing your way over the next week — both to entertain you and to test the content out! And we’ll finish the pre-alpha with a bang: a world event where monster hordes attack town.

To the people who’ve played and sent us feedback, thank you very much.

Posted in Project Gorgon | 8 Comments