Crowfall Column: Hard Road to Soft Launch

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I seem to have had a DOT cast upon me! With every key stroke I grow weaker and wearier. I promise to grind this out, for you, my faithful e-friends! (Takes a long pull of dark black tea.)

A couple of weeks ago (so roughly 2 years in internet time) Artcraft (ACE) co-founders J. Todd Coleman and Gordon Walton gave us a “Founders’ Update; Milestone Shifts and Duelists”. It was essentially a progress and development strategy update. While I was happy to hear the duelist was getting closer to the live test I was far more interested what the development shift might mean in terms of me ever getting to play a launched game! Let’s see what they had to offer.

“Instead of focusing on high-level game systems, we decided to go ahead and bite off some of the more challenging, foundational pieces of the game – i.e. the “big ticket” items that make an MMO work.”

Increasing the size of our current world/continent – FINALLY! I’ve been waiting forever for the combat testing map to feel like a real MMORPG WORLD! Let’s see what else they have planned to create it!

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Made up of randomized land parcels, – This is a must, both to test the core concept and to make the world feel as promised, forever changing. It was one of the things that I found very appealing about Crowfall, that every time we go into a new campaign the map would be different.

Stitched together seamlessly (players can run from one to the next with no loading or zone boundary) – Another must here. I can tolerate a few loading screens but generally prefer not to see them in MMORPG’s if I can. I assume it also has some major ramifications for the Eternal Kingdoms and how we will stitch our own kingdoms together.

Up (and persistent) over a longer period, i.e. days instead of hours – A pretty obvious requirement for the world to feel worldly.

Supporting dozens of combatants with 30+ FPS ­- Hurm…30 huh? I’m not a hardcore frames per second guy but I have noted that a game which aims for 60 and dips lower isn’t nearly as noticeable as a game that aims for 30 and dips. I hope that plus sign is a big one! 30 is likely the sacrifice we make in order to have larger battles. If that is the case, it’s a trade I happily accept but hopefully they aim for 40 with a dip down to 30 as a worst case scenario! While an engine neophyte, I had concerns about Unity from the beginning. MMORPGs, especially PVP MMORPGs are so unique you almost need an engine built specifically for them, unfortunately I’m not sure one exists on the market.

New respawn rules (to accommodate larger continent) – Another logical step to a real live MMORPG world!

Resource spawning and harvesting (by players instead of factories) – Ah, now this is interesting! I don’t think of them as resource spawns, I think of them as PVP generators! Much like crafting, harvesting is a necessity for Crowfall to feel like more than just another fighting game.

Crafting (using resources and recipes to create items) – Good to see crafters getting some love. I believe it’s extremely important for Crowfall to show its more than just combat. PVPers need PVEers to keep their game interesting and give it a longer, more eventful shelf life.

Crowdfunding entitlements (i.e. giving backers a “test copy” of the buildings in their pledge packages) – Ah, but what can we do with such things?

Building placement in the 3D world by players (instead of pre-built by us) – That’s the good stuff! I wonder if this means in the campaign, the Eternal Kingdoms or both?
And, time permitting, we hope to also include …

Improved/New chat system, settings screen, skills system, team selection – I see all of these as a quality of life parts Crowfall needs to transition into a full-fledged MMORPG to test. ACE (learning from their past experiences) wisely chose not to give an exact date on any of these additions. Reading between the lines what did all of it mean?

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It means focus has shifted to the big, challenging, less average backer stimulating items but that is a good thing. ACE creating the combat and combat test area got us invested (and streaming) quickly but these items are what will make Crowfall the game we all paid for so long ago. They are complex, harder to see develop and in many ways less sexy to the common backer, but for the hardcore followers like myself they are the things I’ve been waiting for! These systems will find either success or failure and change Crowfall accordingly.

My concern is, as it was when they developed combat first, that they built the walls first and now they have to lift the house off to pour the foundation. The reason that concerns me is the timeframe to soft launch.

I can’t stress this enough; these systems need to be thoroughly tested! I don’t want to spread unfounded concern but (WILD INTERNET SPECULATION INCOMING) based on my past experience as a MMORPG superfan I’m not sure they have enough time to create and test them deeply.

If I felt like ACE wasn’t grinding away and a delay hit, I’d be pretty upset. Seeing the battle in real time as a backer does affect my feelings. Knowing what I do I feel like ACE would be as disappointed as we would if the big D word had to be uttered. Let’s hope the Universe stays in order, Hell stays hot and I’m wrong, as usual.

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